Fatigue Management Through Alertness Monitoring and Biofeedback

Monday, June 03, 2013 by Chris Hocking

The ability to monitor alertness and continuously "feedback" that information to the driver has been shown to be an effective fatigue management tool that can lead to a reduction in the number of fatigue related incidents and improve operator alertness over time.

Increasing alertness through the principles of biofeedback

What is biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a term used to describe the process of providing an individual with information about their physiological functions. It is a form of self-regulation in which individuals learn how to control physiological activity for the purposes of improving health and performance.

Specific instruments are used to measure physiological processes such as muscle tension, heart-rate, blood pressure, brain waves and skin temperature. These instruments rapidly and accurately "feed back" information to the user about physiological responses that they may not ordinarily be aware of. Biofeedback has been shown to be an effective tool in the treatment and management of various conditions such as anxiety, hypertension, insomnia, migraine, epilepsy, chronic pain and asthma.

The principles of biofeedback can be used to influence behavioural change and improve performance associated with other physiological states such as fatigue.

What does biofeedback have to do with fatigue management?

Applying the principles of biofeedback to fatigue management has enormous safety benefits for any industry required to maintain 24-7 operations, particularly for those workers performing safety critical tasks such as operating heavy vehicles.

It has been well established that fatigued drivers are often unaware of their condition and can lapse into a "micro sleep" that may only last a few seconds, long enough to drive off the road and crash. The difficulty in assessing one's own level of fatigue is due to the impaired mental processing and decision making abilities that characterise the drowsy state. Road accidents attributable to fatigue tend to be the most severe in terms of injury and death, as the driver often makes no attempt to avoid or prevent the crash.

Applying the principles of biofeedback to the monitoring of alertness and detecting the early signs of fatigue removes the uncertainty and subjective inaccuracies that can influence the judgement of a professional driver who is expected to remain vigilant in when in control of a vehicle.

Can technology utilise biofeedback to increase alertness?

Yes, technology that can provide real-time continuous feedback of alertness information to drivers allows them to proactively change or modify behaviour in order to remain safe and alert when operating heavy vehicles.

This objective information assists drivers to understand the affect that lifestyle and external events can have on fatigue levels throughout the day, and how behaviour modifications can influence performance in order to maximise workplace safety.The continual biofeedback of alertness levels and real-time exceptions of the onset of fatigue assists drivers to effectively manage fatigue and help to mitigate a company's exposure to fatigue-related risk over time.

Through the principles of biofeedback, the continued use of Optalert technology has demonstrated quantifiable reductions in fatigue-related risk and improvements to operator performance over time.

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