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Schedule variability linked to fatigue and human factors incidents

Working-Schedule

Schedule variability linked to fatigue and human factors incidents in new US Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Association study.

In April 2014, the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Association (FRA) released a new report which examines a link between work shift start time variability and an increased risk of human factors accidents.

Their research concluded that in fact, the greater the inconsistency in the time of day works shifts are scheduled to start, the greater the level of worker fatigue and associated accident risk.

To assist in reaching these conclusions, Fatigue Science’s Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool (FAST) was used to measure the level of fatigue in various work schedule scenarios. The FRA researchers used a FAST score below 90 [1] to determine if fatigue was present, and then measured the amount of time workers spent below that criterion during their working hours.

Where schedules (during which an accident had occurred) exhibited a high rate of start time variability, FAST demonstrated the workers were spending as much as 50-60% of their time below the fatigue score criterion that was set for this study.

The report concludes:

Fatigue, as measured by the FAST score, was also shown to be a function of start time variability. While it was previously demonstrated that fatigue was a general function of sleep and work schedules (Raslear et al., 2011), this report extends that finding to specify start time variability as a critical aspect of work schedules when considering fatigue and the probability of an accident.

Key takeaways:

  • FAST technology is trusted by the US Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration as a tool for accurately predicting fatigue and levels of fatigue in their work schedules
  • Fatigue is not only a factor for night shift or rotating shift workers
  • Day shift workers can be subject to increased levels of fatigue if their work shift start times are inconsistent.
  • Evidence-based decisions can be made that effectively reduce fatigue without adversely affecting operations.

1. The Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool (FAST) uses scientifically-valid modelling algorithms to measure potential fatigue in work schedules – retrospectively for incident analysis, or in future schedules to optimize planning. FAST identifies that a score of 90 is associated with a 10% reduction in reaction time and 1.5x increased likelihood of a long lapse (or microsleep) – these associated performance changes increase as the FAST score for a schedule roster or worker lowers.

The sleep pod predicament

A recent trend in offices providing napping spaces has some critics and experts concerned that employers are missing the point. The Guardian recently published an article that takes a look at some of the issues.

Employers, like Google, The Huffington Post and Hootsuite, have invested in napping pods and rooms in an attempt to boost productivity.  After all, if research shows that a 20-minute nap can improve alertness for the rest of the day, it seems logical that employers could facilitate a nice nap to get the most productivity out of their workforce, right?

We know that napping is important for shift workers like nurses and airline employees, but in an office environment not intended to be a 24/7 workplace – are nap rooms and pods solving a problem or encouraging workers to put in longer shifts and interfering with their ability to get the quality evening sleep they need?

The first step in fostering a healthy work culture is making informed decisions.  As we suggested in this piece about the Boston Red Sox, if a workforce is so tired that they want a nap room, it is important to look at why this is the case, before investing in any solutions which may address only the symptom and not the cause.

Collecting and analyzing sleep data that clearly illustrates aggregate quantity and quality of sleep, and highlights flaws in workforce scheduling can help determine the optimal solution for enhancing employee productivity and health – including schedule modifications and yes, even a nap room or sleep pod.

FAST used to identify fatigue as a factor in recent Vancouver airport incident

Our Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool (FAST), was recently used by The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) to identify fatigue as a factor in an April 2013 incident at Vancouver Airport. FAST identified that the airport controller did not obtain sufficient sleep before their shift. In addition, the airport controller’s schedule did not permit enough adaptation time, requiring the controller to sleep during the day in an attempt to be adequately rested for the night shift.

The report says the controller mixed up the ID of a 737 and the Jazz plane waiting to take off and ordered the 737 to take off from the same runway where the Jazz plane was waiting. The confusion set off a delay in getting the planes off the ground, which forced an incoming West Jet plane to circle the runway.

FAST for Retrospective Analysis

By uploading an employee’s schedule into FAST, users can identify if an employee’s schedule could have caused fatigue and increased the likelihood of an incident or accident.

Further, if the employee was wearing our Readiband technology before the incident/accident actual sleep data could be imported into FAST for a more comprehensive analysis.

How does FAST work? 

FAST is our user-friendly scientifically validated software that has been developed for schedulers and planners to identify areas of fatigue risk in employee rosters. FAST allows organizations to upload rosters and generates visual predictions of performance along with tables of estimated effectiveness scores. The data can then be used for objective comparisons and optimal schedules may be selected for proposed work periods or mission critical events.