Tackling driver fatigue

By: Words by RCNZ president David Kean

RCNZ president shares a few tips on avoiding driver fatigue

You may have seen the recent headline story on a New Zealand tractor driver who worked almost 200 hours in the fortnight, leading up to his death, which was followed by a WorkSafe prosecution. 

A court heard that in October 2016, a worker for a Waikato contracting company on harvesting operations on a Pukekawa farm had logged a 16.75-hour day, before departing the farm on a tractor for home in preparation for the next day’s work. At 2.45am, he crashed the tractor and died as a result of injuries sustained.


The worker had logged 197.25 hours in the fortnight leading up to his death. Fatigue was identified as the most likely cause of the accident.

The company had a health and safety document prepared earlier that year, identifying fatigue as a high-rating hazard and outlined management steps, including monitoring work hours and break times. As it often happens in such cases, it was not implemented.

As contractors, we are caught in an awful bind. We get as much work done in what is often a constricted time frame. Working from dawn to dusk is not always an option with weather often cutting our available time short.

We do our best to look after our farmer/land owner clients. But we also have to be able to say that there is a limit to what we ask our staff to do or take on ourselves.

Sometimes, the farmer has to say that. 

It’s a hard call for a farmer or a contractor when, on occasions, a year’s income could be at stake.

But who wants to face up to a grieving family or leave our own facing such a loss?

We all know that there is a limit to how many hours we can work and keep performing at a high level. You cannot work 100-hour weeks and be functioning at your best.

As responsible rural contractors, part of what we need to do is set realistic expectations.

Talk to farmers about a set number of hours they can do but also let them know that it’s not worth the risk to them, you, or your staff to push well past that.

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