How to Understand Fatigue in Aviation SMS
Fatigue is a top safety priority. Even moderate levels of fatigue can cause employees to demonstrate the same mental and physical capabilities as an intoxicated person. Fatigue is such a high priority that there are even subsystems dedicated to fatigue – Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRM). Dealing with FRM correctly involves proper understanding of what fatigue is.
Fatigue manifests itself in two ways: physically and mentally. “Manifestations” simply means observable behavior or personal sensation. Physical manifestations of fatigue include:
- General feeling of physical tiredness or lethargy, sometimes described as “feeling heavy”;
- Heavy eyelids or inadvertent nodding off;
- Slowed reaction time; and
- Strong feeling of need to sleep.
Mental manifestations include:
- Difficulties in memorizing information, concentrating, and understanding information;
- Tendency to forget information and actions;
- Apathy; and
- Reduced awareness of environment.
Some of the most common causes of fatigue include:
- Colds, sickness, and/or illness;
- Night shifts, short nights off (finishing late and starting early) or early morning shifts; and
- High layover duration in different time zone.
What is Fatigue Risk Management?
Fatigue risk management (FRM or FRMS) is simply a subsystem/approach within an aviation safety management system meant for dealing with fatigue. Some organizations have actual dedicated subsystems (FRMS) or simply strategies (FRM) that they can demonstrate to oversight agencies as proof of having mitigating fatigue related safety issues.
What this usually entails is having:
- Safety policies and procedures dedicated to fatigue (Safety Policy);
- A safety incident report dedicated to fatigue (fatigue report) (Safety Risk Management);
- Safety promotional materials dedicated to fatigue (Safety Promotion);
- Methods for monitoring fatigue (Safety Assurance); and
- Safety training dedicated to fatigue (Safety Promotion).
In short, fatigue risk management and fatigue risk management systems are both modeled after aviation SMS programs in that they address fatigue from the standpoint of the 4 pillars of aviation SMS.
Here are 3 specific ways to deal with FRM in your aviation SMS program.
1 – Aviation Safety Data
The first thing safety managers should do to understand fatigue in their organization is to begin gathering safety data. Some aviation safety data that will be especially important for clarifying if there is fatigue problem (and severe) are:
- Rate of fatigue/non-fatigue safety reports;
- Number of fatigue reports per person in each department;
- Fatigue reports per month for each month in the year;
- Percentage of employees who have received fatigue safety training;
- Number of fatigue safety promotion materials released in last year; and
- Percentage of fatigue reports in which reporter received feedback from safety management.
If this data has not already been collected, it may take some time to compile it, especially if there have been many fatigue reports in the past year. However, it will be well worth the effort. With this information safety managers will be able to establish:
- Trends in fatigue reporting (such as time of year, department, etc.);
- The exposure to fatigue;
- How much employees understand about fatigue; and
- Correlations to larger safety trends.
2 – Safety Culture, Safety Promotion, and Fatigue
The second extremely important part of fatigue risk management is making sure employees are regularly reminded how important fatigue is for safety. This can be addressed through:
- Safety promotional materials (newsletters, emails, etc.);
- Safety training;
- Safety meetings; and
- Other team building and safety culture building activities.
In all of the above points, it’s critical that safety management reinforce a non-punitive reporting policy. It is similar to how some organizations go to great lengths to establish a standard of “if you are even a little bit sick, then stay home.”
The best way to make the “non-punitive” reporting aspect clear is to let employees know exactly how management deals with fatigue reports. Aviation SMS programs should set the standard that:
- If you are sick, don’t come to work;
- If you are feeling fatigued, self-report; and
- If you notice fatigue in another person, talk to them and report it.
3 – Fatigue Reports Available
Making fatigue reporting quick and easy is an effective way to generate a reporting culture for fatigue. It also helps ensure the completeness of your fatigue data – the reported fatigue reports capture most incidents of fatigue.
Some good ways of making fatigue reports available are:
- Offline reporting;
- Fatigue reports available from mobile devices (cell phones);
- Make reports extremely simple, such as having only 3 or 4 input fields on the report; and
- Have multiple ways of reporting fatigue – such as through text message reporting, the formal fatigue report, and email reporting.
Final Thought: FRMS is Performance Based
One last element of FRMS that is extremely important to understand is that:
- FRM and FRMS are performance based.
This means that:
- Simply having policies, promotion, training, tools, etc. dedicated to risk management is not enough;
- Organizations need to be able to monitor the effect of FRM/FRMS on fatigue incidents; and
- Organizations need to be able to demonstrate improvement in fatigue related safety issues in response to FRM/FRMS.
In other words, the bureaucratic side of FRM and FRMS less important than the performance of fatigue in the operational environment. This is different from SMS, where the SMS bureaucracy and performance are equally important.
Fatigue statistics can prove to be extremely valuable leading indicators. For a full list of leading indicators, get our free list below: