Fatigue Risk Management Systems: Are They Necessary?

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The simple answer is yes. Here's why:

1. Your workers are not machines – they are humans.

2. Humans aren’t designed to work outside of our “operating limitations

3. Once our human operating limitations have been reached, we are at an escalated risk for errors, accidents and productivity losses.

4. The outcomes of human errors and accidents can be catastrophic.

As Dr. Martin Moore-Ede stated in his book, The Twenty-Four-Hour Society, “People don’t release smoke, grind gears, or have pieces fall off; but their equivalents – fatigue, error, injury, and ill health – do result in failure and breakdown."

Reason’s Approach

James Reason, a distinguished professor and author, developed the ‘Swiss Cheese Model of Accident Causation’ to illustrate that although multiple layers of defense lie between hazards and accidents, flaws, or ‘holes’, can exist in each layer. When these “holes” align, a pathway accidents emerges (Figure 1).
swiss cheese model of defense

Given the nature of operational defenses, holes in the defense layers are dynamic and constantly opening, closing, and shifting within an organization – requiring an organization to continually re-evaluate the integrity of their defense systems.

When applying Reason’s logic to fatigue management, a fatigue-related accident or incident is the end point of a causal chain of successive lapses in a defense system. Therefore, an organization is responsible for developing a comprehensive defense system against fatigue; while its employees are responsible for arriving to work alert and fit-for-duty.

Applying Reason’s Logic to Fatigue Risk Management Systems

Reason’s Swiss Cheese Model of Defense was used to develop the model for comprehensive fatigue risk management systems (FRMS), which is now the international standard for managing and mitigating fatigue in operations (Figure 2).

CIRCADIAN '5 Defenses' FRMS Model
Fatigue Risk Management Systems

Interestingly, fatigue has a global cost to employers of over $100 billion per year, yet CIRCADIAN surveys reveal that only 10% of organizations have implemented a comprehensive fatigue risk management system. 1-2

This means that despite the overwhelming evidence that an FRMS is necessary for optimizing the safety and profitability of an operation, many organizations are choosing to forgo implementing these critical systems. But why?

Some would suggest that this counterintuitive behavior is a result of our optimism bias.

The Dangerous Optimism Bias

Optimism bias is a cognitive bias that causes a person to believe that he or she has a lower risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others.

When applied to operations management, the optimism bias can prevent managers from implementing the safety measures necessary to prevent a fatigue-related accident.

So how do you overcome this bias to ensure the safety of your operation?

Overcoming the Optimism Bias

To overcome the optimism bias, start by asking yourself the following key questions:

1. Is your operation understaffed?

2. Is your workforce’s overtime rate (actual weekly hours worked/scheduled weekly hours) consistently above 12 percent?

3. Do a few key employees work most of the available overtime?

4. Do your workers complain about the shifts they work?

5. Is there a high degree of shift swapping among your workers?

6. Are your workers exhibiting any of the common symptoms of fatigue? Have workers mentioned being tired or struggling with fatigue?

7. If you run 8-hour shifts, are your workers allowed to work more than 7 days in a row? If you run 12-hour shifts, are your workers allowed to work more than 5 days in a row?

8. Does your operation experience high rates of absenteeism and/or turnover?

9. Do more accidents and injuries occur on night and weekend shifts as compared to day shifts during the work week? Have you been experiencing higher rates of accidents/injuries in general?

10. Does your operation have excessive workers’ compensation claims?

If you answered yes…

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should consider having a conversation with an expert to determine if your operation is facing serious challenges to its overall safety. If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, you should talk with an expert.

At this point, you may be telling yourself that now isn't the right time for that conversation – maybe later, next quarter, next promotion. Whatever it is that you're telling yourself to validate your procrastination – stop. Take the first step towards a safer operation – right now.

It’s easy to fall prey to optimism bias, however, disasters like Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island, and the 2005 Texas City Explosion are solemn reminders that fatigued workers can inadvertently make poor decisions at any moment that can result in grave consequences.

History tells the unfortunate tale of too many operations that chose to ignore worker fatigue and suffered catastrophic destruction, sky-high costs and even loss of life.

Clearly it’s time to make fatigue management a priority, if you haven’t done so already.

Workforces that have implemented a comprehensive FRM benefit from improvements in worker productivity, absenteeism, turnover and excessive overtime – along with many other added benefits.

These systems often accrue significant ROIs for companies, as was the case with Dupre’ Logistics (see below).

fatigue risk management

Take the First Step

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