Differences can be day & night
By Steve Staedler
The difference can literally be day and night. For Cal Brockmann, aviation technician and safety representative for Phillip Morris' two Challenger 604 aircraft based at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, WI, alternating between day and night shifts can certainly take its toll on overall job performance.
"It's a very big issue," Brockmann said of fatigue brought on by working alternating hours, "especially for those of us on constantly rotating shifts."
But what about those mechanics that work the night shift on a consistent basis? Does fatigue play a role in their job performance as well?
"I don't think so," says Rich Orcholski, a night shift maintenance supervisor for Midwest Express Airlines in Milwaukee. "You just have to get into a routine."
Two aircraft mechanics working opposite shifts, each with different viewpoints on the issue of fatigue. Is there really a right or wrong answer? In both scenarios, valid arguments can be made to support each mechanic's observation. But certainly, various factors do play a role in shaping their views on the issue of fatigue.
Sometimes, size does matter
As Brockmann sees it, a primary cause of fatigue in the workplace can be traced back to one item: the size of his shop. With only five employees on staff, constant rotating between day and night shift is required.
"It's a real problem," he said. "There's really no way around it in our industry. Aircraft come and go at weird hours. Most small shops don't have a lot of people, so you have to rotate them. Then you throw in sick time, school, and vacation."
Brockmann said he and his staff typically are split between working two weeks on days then two weeks on nights - a change that can be difficult to adjust to.
"We are now trying to stay at least a couple weeks on each of the shifts so you get acclimated to that shift," he said. "It seems to help some, but when you're going from an early to a late and a late to an early (shifts), that's when you get in trouble. It takes about three or four days for your [circadian] clock to start ticking again. Sleep deprivation is really a chronic thing in our industry. You have to have checks and balances. If you were not 100 percent on top of the program, hopefully the guy coming in behind you to look at your work is in better shape than you are."
When it comes to working the night shift, Orcholski would have it no other way. He started as an aircraft cleaner a decade ago and has steadily worked himself up through the ranks and, for eight of those years, has worked nights by choice.
"To me, on third shift, the work is a lot better," he said. "You have more of a variety; essentially, there is a different challenge every night."
Now, as a maintenance supervisor, he is responsible for the work accomplished by a team of 15 to 30 mechanics on a nightly basis.
"At break time, we go and play basketball, so that's a lot of activity. Most of the guys get enough sleep, but some of the guys you can tell (they don't), but you say something to them and they're better the next day."
Of course having a large enough pool of mechanics to fill out the night shift for a set length of time is a major factor for Orcholski and his team. Plus, Orcholski points out that their schedule of working eight, 10-hour days then getting six days off, helps to create a more regulated routine as opposed to working five days on and two days off.
"We made it friendlier for the guys, a more attractive shift," he said. "We have some guys who only work night shift. They like to taxi and do all that stuff to the airplane, and on day shift, you don't get to do that very often."
Difference is day and night
Cliff Launius, a maintenance instructor for United Airlines at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and third-shift worker for the past 14 years, recalled a study completed several years ago that compared the production of aircraft mechanics between the day and night shifts. Launius said the findings revealed that midnight personnel were 40 percent less efficient than their daytime counterparts, which points to fatigue as an issue.
Fatigue in maintenance is related not only to inadequate sleep and rest but also to other factors such as light, noise, temperature, and even vibration.
The need for safety never tires
Do you make a point of encouraging your personnel to get adequate sleep? What’s "adequate"?