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7 Things to Consider When Developing a Fatigue Management Plan

Wednesday, July 03, 2013 by Chris Hocking

What is a Fatigue Management Plan?

A Fatigue Management Plan can be broadly defined as a collection of policies and procedures that are developed in consultation with all relevant stakeholders to set out how the risk of harm from fatigue in the workplace is to be managed.

Conventional strategies to mitigate the effects of fatigue in shift working occupational settings, particularly in the transport and mining industries, are primarily centred on regulatory and organisational approaches. These include limits to hours of duty, education, and training. Such approaches are essential to any fatigue management plan and have positive effects on workplace alertness, safety, and productivity. However, the effectiveness of these approaches can only go so far as fatigue is an inevitable by-product of shift work.

7 Things to Consider when Developing a Fatigue Management Plan

People aren't designed for 24/7 operations

We are physiologically programmed to sleep during the night and be active during the day. This is known as the sleep-wake cycle. Consequently, shift workers are especially prone to sleep disturbances, sleep deprivation and misalignment of the sleep-wake cycle, all of which lead to sleepiness, fatigue and associated performance deficits.

People don't fully adapt to shift work

This is particularly true for evening work, night work and rotating shift schedules. For example, night work requires restorative sleep during the day which is often shorter, lighter and less restorative than nocturnal sleep.

The consequences of fatigue can be disastrous

The detrimental effects of fatigue have been implicated in major disasters such as the nuclear power-plant accidents at Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

Developing a Fatigue Management Plan is a complex and challenging task

Most shift working industries are required to identify, assess and control fatigue as part of their health and safety management system. This is no simple matter, particularly for personnel working in hazardous environments or performing safety critical tasks, such as heavy vehicle operators in the road transport or mining industries.

Even the best designed Fatigue Management plans cannot regulate sleep behaviours during rest periods or days off

Insufficient restorative sleep will increase levels of fatigue with each consecutive shift. This can be further exacerbated by rotating shifts due to the changes and disruptions in sleep/wake patterns during changeover periods.

So how can a fatigue management plan control for this?

The Use of Effective Fatigue Countermeasures

Countermeasures refer to a range of strategies aimed at either minimising or counteracting the effects of fatigue when driving. While countermeasures can reduce the risk of a fatigue-related incident, they cannot eliminate the risk. The only cure for fatigue is sleep.

The most effective countermeasures are napping and caffeine which, if administered appropriately and with optimal timing, can be very effective for maintaining alertness either alone, or in combination.

Detecting the first signs of fatigue is critical for maximising the effectiveness of countermeasures.

Technology can help

Technology that can objectively detect the early signs of fatigue in real-time can be used to effectively complement organisational and regulatory approaches to improve fatigue management.

The ability to continuously assess operator fatigue, regardless of factors such as time-of day (sleep-wake cycle), previous amount and quality of sleep, effect of drugs or alcohol, or undiagnosed sleep disorders, would be beneficial to any fatigue management plan.

Stay tuned for future blogs on the ways in which technology can improve a fatigue management plan.

By Dr Andrew Tucker, General Manager Scientific Research

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