“I have been a lead mechanic for over 25 years for the airlines,” says a mechanic surveyed by the FAA. “Have I ever worked tired when I shouldn’t have or seen others who worked tired when they shouldn’t have? Yes. Do other mechanics, leads, and management know about it? Yes. Have mistakes been made due to fatigue? Yes.”
In the Bosley et al study, 84 percent of mechanics surveyed stated there should be a regulation regarding the length of duty time and rest for all maintenance personnel.
FAA Sec. 121.377 states that “Within the United States, each certificate holder (or person performing maintenance or preventive maintenance functions for it) shall relieve each person performing maintenance or preventive maintenance from duty for a period of at least 24 consecutive hours during any seven consecutive days, or the equivalent thereof within any one calendar month.”
Some mechanics feel this allows for their employers to overwork them during the time they are not required to have off. One mechanic surveyed by the FAA mentioned that it wasn’t unusual for him to have only three days off in 30.
“I am a corporate maintenance technician and I am basically on call 24 hours a day. When an aircraft is broken I must stay until it is repaired,” reads one testimonial in an FAA presentation from its 2008 Fatigue Conference. “My fatigue level, or lack of rest has never seemed to be a factor to the chief pilot(s). There has always been said and unsaid pressure to get the aircraft back in service. The pilots have always been concerned over their duty times. Many times I’ve worked when I felt I was too fatigued.”
Putting the issue to rest
The FAA held its first aviation fatigue symposium June 17-19, 2008, in order to bring together 325 industry, government, and academic minds to discuss possible fatigue management strategies and best practices. Many experts consider scientifically based fatigue risk management systems the key to addressing the problem of fatigue. Attendees emphasized the necessity for government and industry to develop a culture that does not penalize employees who stay away from work due to fatigue.
The National Transportation Safety Board ordered the study done by Bosley et al in 1989, yet fatigue remains on its 2009 “Most Wanted” list of safety improvements that was released in October of 2008. According to its documents, the NTSB “has long been concerned about the effects of fatigue on persons performing critical functions in all modes of transportation” because it presents unnecessary risk to the traveling public. To this day it recommends setting work hour limits based on fatigue research, circadian rhythms, and sleep rest requirements.
Following these recommendations is up to the employee as well as employer. The safety of the traveling public depends on it.
This is the first in a series of articles on the Dirty Dozen. The Dirty Dozen was developed by Gordon Dupont at Transport Canada. They are critical factors in the area of human factors and safety; they are complacency, lack of knowledge, lack of teamwork, distraction, fatigue, lack of resources, pressure, lack of assertiveness, lack of communication, norms, stress, and lack of awareness.
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