Fatigue Hazards: How Can You Prepare?

Did you know that human fatigue can be just as dangerous as metal fatigue? Sleep loss and extended duty hours can leave you with progressive and localized structural damage to your body and your organization. Repeatedly not getting enough sleep is...

Did you know that human fatigue can be just as dangerous as metal fatigue? Sleep loss and extended duty hours can leave you with progressive and localized structural damage to your body and your organization. Repeatedly not getting enough sleep is believed to increase the risk of a variety of chronic medical problems, including obesity, depression, gastrointestinal problems, compromised immune function, substance abuse, and cardiovascular disease.

At the corporate level, sleep loss is costing U.S. employers approximately $136 billion per year or more in lost productivity due to things like do-overs and lost time on task. This does not include the fatigue-related costs associated with incidents/accidents, insurance, healthcare, etc. Although the effects of fatigue can be even more far reaching, the evidence sufficiently highlights it as a hazard that warrants both personal and corporate attention.

The FAA has been working to develop guidance for fatigue risk management systems (FRMS) in aviation operations. An FRMS is a scientifically based, data-driven process that can be used to monitor and manage fatigue risks. An FRMS has the flexibility to encourage operational efficiency while reducing fatigue risk and associated safety hazards. The conditions that produce fatigue originate both in the workplace and in the employee’s personal life. For an FRMS to be effective, everyone must take some responsibility for fatigue factors (i.e., the maintainer, the manager, the executive).


Fatigue Risk Management

In the workplace, a number of factors can influence fatigue, including working hours, staffing levels, and the availability of break periods. Alternatively, personal factors can also lead to fatigue, including social and family commitments, commute time, second jobs, and medical conditions that may reduce the quality or quantity of sleep.

The employer has a responsibility to utilize available resources to manage fatigue risk and optimize the safety of their tools and products while the employee has a responsibility to ensure, as much as possible, that he or she is rested and “fit for duty” before reporting for work.

Fatigue risk management systems are widely used to manage fatigue among flight crews, the railroad industry, and drivers of commercial vehicles, among others. Successful implementation of an FRMS in these industries has yielded substantial improvements in personal health and well-being, as well as significant improvements in safety and reductions in organizational costs. For instance, Schneider National Inc., a multi-national trucking company, has reported more than a $10 million dollar savings in annualized health care costs alone.

Despite the documented benefits of fatigue risk management systems, they are still uncommon within aviation organizations. A number of different approaches can be used to implement an FRMS in aviation ground operations and can be considered as layers of defense in the “Swiss Cheese” model.

In the typical aviation ground operation, three goals can be identified for an effective FRMS: 1) reduce fatigue to an acceptable level, 2) reduce fatigue-related errors, and 3) minimize the consequences or harm of fatigue-related errors.

To be effective, a combination of approaches or countermeasures should be used to accomplish each goal and prevent an error from occurring. Countermeasures directed toward each goal can reduce the likelihood of fatigue-related errors and the magnitude of their consequences. Some of these countermeasures are currently being applied within the industry, while others may be feasible in the future.


Reducing Fatigue to an Acceptable Level

The first and most obvious goal of fatigue countermeasures is to reduce the level of fatigue experienced by personnel at work. Fatigue reduction interventions are intended to minimize fatigue in the workplace. Recognize that complete elimination of fatigue is not always practical. Workplace interventions can include duty time limits, scientific scheduling, napping, education, excused absences, and in some instances, medical testing and treatment.

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