Fatigue Risk Management Systems Could Bring New Life to Your Tired Operators

Recent studies of workers have identified that job dissatisfaction along with a previous history of MSDs were the two most significant predictive factors for employees reporting work-related injuries. A 2013 Gallup poll finds that 70% of US workers are dissatisfied with their jobs. This results in a $550 Billion loss in productivity.

Shift-workers, particularly those on rotating shifts, have a higher incidence of sick leave, a higher rate of visits to clinics at the work site, and poorer scores on a variety of measures of health. In one study, 62% of shift-workers, complained of sleep problems, compared with 20% of day-workers. Shift workers, and particularly night workers have a higher incidence of digestive disorders than day-workers.

Many studies have indicated that they also have a slightly higher incidence of cardiovascular disease. Shift-work may also be a risk factor in such pregnancy outcomes as low birth weight and pre-term births.

We also see two other byproducts of fatigue one being absenteeism rates double when fatigue is a major issue with shift workers, and workers compensation claims skyrocket to over 500 times the norm for 24/7 shift workers. These two signs should be a trigger to initiate an Ergonomic study and implementing a new Fatigue Risk Management Plan.

Over the past 25 years, extensive research has confirmed that fatigue, as related to shift work, is fundamentally a physiological problem, not a behavioral one. Certainly, one's behavior can induce or compound fatigue, but with most operator/Controllers this is the exception and not the rule. Rather, shift worker fatigue is caused primarily by four operationally driven factors.

  1. Having sufficient staffing levels and a balanced workload.
  2. Having sufficient sleep opportunity.
  3. Obtaining sufficient sleep.
  4. The workplace design supports 24/7 operations, temperature, humidity, lighting levels and color filtering, no vibration, good acoustics, ergonomic furniture.

Fatigue, stress and anxiety are symptoms of unhappy and tired workers who look for a job change as they age, unable to manage the health issues that developed from the consequences of fatigue.

Because there are multiple aspects of fatigue, it is often helpful to more precisely define fatigue either in terms of the predominant symptom (e.g. excessive sleepiness), the cause (e.g. obstructive sleep apnea), the body system predominantly involved (e.g. mental fatigue), or the outcome risk (e.g. driver fatigue).

To address the 4 operational drivers and the predominant symptoms of fatigue the Fatigue Risk Management Plan (FRMP) should have more than just hours of service rules as demonstrated by API RP 755, it should include aspects that lead to excessive overtime caused by workload imbalance. Overtime that impacts shift/duty schedules and reduces a shift workers opportunity to rejuvenate. Explore through education and training sleep disorder treatment and compliance.

A practical and successful fatigue risk management plan/system will ultimately produce more productive and happier workers who are more content and are not as stressed or anxious through shift work. The net result should be less absenteeism, more productivity, less Human Error, reduced workers compensation claims, healthier workers with better attitudes, elevated moods and increased alertness, with more stamina.