Operator fatigue is a critical safety issue that is putting 24/7 operations at risk in our industry. Every day, operators and managers must cope with unusual and difficult work schedules and the reality of operator fatigue. Fatigue may produce physical and mental decrements in alertness, vigilance, and decision-making that can increase the risk of human error and result in fatalities and injuries. However, the incidence of fatigue is underestimated in virtually every industry because it is hard to quantify and measure. Recognizing that fatigue management requires major changes in both organizational culture and operator behavior, we are focused on facing these challenges. We bring together the expertise of government, industry, and labor to create solutions to aid in understanding and managing shift worker fatigue.
Fatigue is not just feeling physically drained or tired; it’s also a state of impaired alertness, attentiveness, affecting your mental and physical performance. Being fatigued also includes having reduced motor coordination, and slower reaction time. When we are fatigued, there is a loss of environmental awareness, impairment of cognitive/logical reasoning skills, poor judgment and diminished ability to communicate and/or process communications and information. In fact, there is now scientific evidence that suggests when we’re tired (or mentally fatigued) our ability to perform the simplest of tasks is impaired to the same level as if we were legally intoxicated!
We see many shiftworkers who are well trained and skilled at their jobs, but who have never been taught how to deal with fatigue, better manage their sleep or adapt to the inherent physical and social challenges of shiftwork. As a consequence, they develop bad habits and/or become victims of common shiftwork pitfalls that compromise their ability to perform to their fullest capabilities. This is just one of the many reasons that shiftworking employees conservatively cost companies $8,600 per person per year in excess costs over and above their daytime counterparts.
Every control room should have a fatigue management plan. Shift supervisors and schedulers should be trained on fatigue mitigation and schedule techniques. Once company management has made a corporate commitment to reduce fatigue and optimize the productivity and safety of their workforce, they need to develop a comprehensive, science based, Fatigue Risk Management Plan. It’s not just a way to be safer, every FRMS rule or standard requires that you evaluate fatigue risk and take active steps to, track fatigue, manage it, and reduce incidents and errors caused by employee fatigue. To do this efficiently and effectively requires specially-designed, scientifically-validated, scheduling tools that not only test for work-rest rule compliance but also assess work schedule fatigue risk, and evaluates fatigue as a potential cause in incidents and accidents.