Work-site Assessment Required for Effective Fatigue Risk Management

Companies have developed a greater understanding of the causes and effects of long-term fatigue on workers by adapting risk-based approaches to fatigue management. But it is important to incorporate work-site causes of fatigue.


Companies in safety-critical industries have developed a greater understanding of the causes and effects of long-term fatigue on workers by adapting risk-based approaches to fatigue management. However, as companies make this shift, they are failing to properly incorporate the important work site-specific causes of fatigue, an expert said.

In a webinar, “Managing Employee Fatigue Through a Fatigue Risk Management Plan,” held by the SPE Human Factors Technical Section, Paul Jackson discussed the steps that companies should take in developing an effective fatigue management program (FMP). Jackson is the managing director at Clockwork Research, a consultancy firm that specializes in fatigue management for safety-critical companies.

He outlined three levels of the fatigue risk management process. On the first level, a company creates an overall standard by setting out a framework and rationale for companies to devise methods for managing fatigue. This standard may include daily and weekly limits on work hours, fatigue reporting guidelines, and information on how fatigue affects emergency response, shutdowns, and turnarounds.

“It sets out the scope,” Jackson said. “In other words, what work roles are going to be covered? Which groups are going to be covered by the fatigue risk management program? What are the specific tasks that are going to be covered? Which operations and sites does it apply to?”

The second level is the FMP, which organizations tailor to address specific issues unique to their work sites. Jackson said an effective FMP should identify the people who will implement and enforce the plan in an organization. It should also provide operationally appropriate controls and mitigations.

Once an FMP has been operational for an extended period of time, Jackson said an organization should have enough data to start the third level of the process called the fatigue site assessment. This step helps identify contributors to fatigue at a particular work site through interviews with employees, supervisors, and managers. It also gives organizations the chance to learn how their FMPs comply with the fatigue risk management standard.

“Before you can manage fatigue, you have to measure it, and this measurement process requires data collection. We need to identify effective, meaningful sources or data within our operation. We need to provide a system for analyzing that data,” he said.

Jackson said his company typically conducts interviews with groups of four to six employees when working on-site. These interviews are facilitated, meaning that the interviewers seek to have a discussion with the interviewee groups instead of a straightforward question-and-answer session.

The interview topics generally range from work-related issues (for example, the tasks an employee performs, shift patterns, break schedules, and overtime) to extraneous details such as an employee’s daily commute to and from the work site. The interviewers also ask employees about their sleep patterns before, after, and during day and night shifts. This data will then be used to form an analysis of the workforce.

“We talk to the group to find out what kinds of things contribute to their fatigue, and what consequences it has,” Jackson said. “It may be consequences in the workplace, in terms of the effects on performance, or on their safety, or it may be consequences in their personal life in terms of health consequences, the effects on their family, and their general health and well-being.”

In order for an FMP to be successfully implemented, Jackson said that an organization’s management must be fully engaged in the process. Managers must take their responsibilities in managing fatigue seriously and demonstrate their commitment to fatigue risk management through their actions.

It is also important for the FMP to have sufficient human and financial resources committed to it. Companies must allot the money needed to start fatigue management projects, and workers must be given enough time to develop them.

“Often, I think one of the things operators try to do is to give this task to somebody who is already overloaded,” Jackson said. “They may already have a whole range of tasks to complete, and this simply gets added to the list. To a certain extent, that’s a recipe for failure.”