In 2016, leaked documents from the airline Fly Dubai revealed that pilots for the airline were angry about the hours they were being asked to work. They felt that they were being pushed too hard and that the resulting fatigue was putting them and their passengers at risk.
Fatigue has long been a concern in the airline industry; in fact, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides tools that airline personnel can use to evaluate their fatigue and learn about “fatigue countermeasures,” as well as a guidance document that airlines can use in creating a fatigue risk management plan (FRMP) for their employees.
Here are some general principles drawn from the FAA guidance that you can put to use in your workplace.
Make a Plan
The FAA FRMP guidance recommends that airline employers address issues of employee fatigue using:
- Fatigue management policies and procedures. In some industries, like transportation and health care, fatigue can have serious safety consequences. You should develop a fatigue management policy and procedures based on the specific risks and requirements that exist in your industry.
- Flight time and duty period limitations. In the airline industry, these may be set by regulation or by collective bargaining agreements. Hours of service are regulated in some other industries as well—for example, in the trucking industry. If your industry is not subject to regulatory or collective bargaining limits, you will need to consider the risks and cognitive demands of your workers’ jobs and set shift structures and limitations that will protect against excessive fatigue.
- A rest scheme consistent with limitations. An FRMP must address rest—how long workers need in between successive shifts, and in between extended shift schedules (consecutive shifts worked for more than 7 days in succession) in order to rest and fully recover. Rest schedules should also be devised for workers who work unscheduled operations, on-call shifts, work performed across multiple time zones, and reserve assignments.
- A fatigue reporting policy. A fatigue-related event is a near miss just as surely as one that has to do with mechanical failure or simple inattention. Workers should be aware of the need to report these. They should also feel comfortable reporting subjective fatigue, because this can help you to determine whether your program is effective and how it can be adjusted.
- An education and awareness training program. Workers should know how fatigue affects them and of the basics of sleep and circadian rhythms. They should be able to identify when they are dangerously fatigued and know how to respond in order to stay safe.
A deliberate effort to manage fatigue can pay off in improved alertness, productivity, and job performance, as well as in improved worker health and reduced accident risk.