Fatigue is a real and ongoing issue for our members today. The causes, impact and solutions can be complex and wide-ranging. So how do you get it right? Standards and measures are a good start, but how do you ensure they make a practical difference? And as companies strive to find ways to protect their workforce, technical innovations are emerging alongside more traditional ways of managing behaviour. In November, 104 CIRAS members came together across six events to share good practice on beating fatigue.
Two key themes emerged from the discussions: the balance between the role of data, technology and behavioural safety in measuring, managing and monitoring fatigue; and the balance between company and personal responsibility and how to address this effectively.
Technology – the pros and cons
Participants reported a growing choice of technological solutions ranging from reporting apps for remote workers and wrist-worn monitoring devices, to biometric and telematic data measuring when and how people work. Many are using the HSE’s Fatigue Reduction Index tool to provide them with data.
Technology can provide real time, granular data which identifies trends accurately and informs solutions. It can monitor behaviour and identify non-compliance. But the consensus was that technology alone cannot solve fatigue. Often, it’s not used optimally. The volume of available data may give a false sense of security that fatigue is ‘fixed’. And staff can resist technology which monitors them, such as ‘fit bit’ bands or biometric sign-in, feeling it is overly intrusive. One member addressed this last issue by making use voluntary. Once staff saw the benefits, they were more comfortable about it.
Participants felt that data, while vital, should not be taken as ‘gospel’. Fatigue data may hide other factors - for example workers feeling more fatigued as they get older, or when working in dark, wet or cold conditions. If data is retrospective, the opportunity to address risks may already have passed. Companies need both technology and behavioural safety programmes to tackle fatigue effectively.
Managing behaviour – it’s personal
No amount of data or controls will work unless individuals also take personal responsibility for managing their behaviour. Key to addressing this is to understand why people sometimes make poor choices:
- Financial pressures – workers welcome overtime and additional shifts to maximise their income. Double shifts, shift swopping and second jobs can increase fatigue risk and can be hard to prevent – especially with zero hours contractors.
- Fear of retribution – people can be less honest about fatigue, potentially fearing negative consequences. Poor reporting makes it harder to identify risk areas.
- Culture – one participant talked about workers feeling they were too ‘hard’ to get fatigued, preventing them from speaking up or changing behaviour when they are suffering.
- “It’s my time” – social media and the pressures of family life are just two ways in which we may not get enough ‘down time’ outside of work. It’s harder to influence the choices people make in their own time.
Managing fatigue risk
So, what are CIRAS members doing to reduce fatigue risk and keep their workforce safe? Participants shared some great innovative practice.
Planning and monitoring
Planning is key, especially to reduce risk around shift patterns and travel to/from work sites. Measures include:
- avoiding double shifts and variable shift lengths
- permanent nights rather than swopping around
- shortening shifts
- contracting staff who live near the worksite
- avoid changes to work location at short notice
- including travel time when monitoring hours.
Some members said that if they can they avoid booking work at weekends or nights – recognising that this is not always possible. Some try to provide more consistent hours for contractors, so they don’t need to seek additional work elsewhere. Accommodation was a hot topic - taking staff feedback into account when booking accommodation, and ensuring it was nearby helped encourage staff to use it rather than putting themselves at risk by driving to and from shifts. Monitoring helps identify non-compliant behaviour and members reported using telematics to monitor vehicle movements in order to check if staff are using accommodation.
Engagement and education
This is about culture change – helping staff behave in the right way because they understand why it matters. It starts with strong leadership. Participants felt that senior teams should lead by example and encourage people to be honest about fatigue. It’s vital to engage with unions help ensure policy will be implemented. One participant set up a ‘chat room’ for staff to share good ideas. Most participants included fatigue management in their safety communications, for example toolbox talks, stand down days or ‘back to work’ sessions after the Christmas break. Many also look at how their health and wellbeing programmes can encourage lifestyle changes which reduce fatigue risk.
Tram Operations holds family fun days to help families understand how they can help ensure drivers aren’t fatigued, and some members have onsite nurses holding sleep clinics. It’s also important to recognise and reward honest behaviours, for example through staff awards or simply by saying thank you. Honest reporting leads to better data and so to better solutions. Some felt that education must be reinforced by consequences where necessary. So, educate workers on how to get good quality rest – then if someone is not properly rested, refuse them access to site. But the balance between fair culture and disciplinary procedures must be right.
Fatigue friendly policies
Participants talked about ensuring policies recognise and account for fatigue. One member’s accommodation policy allowed workers’ young families to stay with them when they are away from home. Another offers reduced hours or non-safety critical work to anyone with a new baby. Yet another member gives their staff a long weekend at least once every six weeks – so they will finish on a Thursday and have the whole weekend to spend with family. Having polices which discourage staff from sending or reading email out-of-hours also help staff take a real break from work.
Our NR and ORR speakers shared some useful resources:
You can view all speakers’ presentations on the CIRAS members’ portal. To find out more about any of the initiatives mentioned in this article contact your Stakeholder Manager or email firstname.lastname@example.org.