The ATSB has investigated a number of incidents and accidents where fatigue was identified as having a causal effect.
Human fatigue is a physical and psychological condition primarily caused by prolonged wakefulness and/or insufficient or disturbed sleep. Everyone has experienced fatigue at some point, but in the transport industry, where there’s often high pressure to deliver, fatigue can have very real, very dangerous implications.
Fatigue can have a range of adverse influences on human performance, such as slowed reaction time, decreased work efficiency, reduced motivational drive, and increased variability in work performance. Fatigue can lead to lapses or errors associated with attention, problem-solving, memory, vigilance and decision-making.
Experiencing fatigue and its effects on performance is a widespread issue across the transport industry. ATSB investigations have found fatigue to be a safety factor in many rail, marine and aviation incidents and accidents. Investigators will check for the possibility of fatigue as a contributing safety factor in investigations where human performance issues are apparent.
Most people generally underestimate their level of fatigue. Studies have found that people experiencing fatigue are not able to evaluate accurately their own fatigue level or their ability to perform. Instead, they tend to overestimate their abilities.
What can you do?
Minimising fatigue is a responsibility for both employees and employers. Sleep is vital for recovery from fatigue, with both the quantity and quality of sleep being important. Most people need at least seven to eight hours of sleep each day to achieve maximum levels of alertness and performance.
Employers: Employers have a duty of care to provide safe work schedules that permit adequate time for an employee to sleep, rest and recover, as well as fulfil their social and domestic responsibilities. In doing so, organisations should provide adequate time for their staff to get the required restorative sleep opportunity, sufficient time for recovery including meals, hygiene and rest, as well as enough time to travel to and from suitable sleeping accommodation.
Employees: Employees should ensure they use any rest periods provided to obtain adequate sleep where possible. They also have a duty of care to use their time away from work to get enough sleep and recovery time so they can complete their work duties safely and responsibly.
The following questions can help you assess your risk of elevated fatigue at any time:
- Have you missed gaining adequate sleep over the past few nights?
- Have you had less than six hours sleep in the last 24 hours?
- Have you had less than 14 hours sleep in the past 48 hours?
- Has your sleep been disrupted?
- Have you been awake and/or at work for an extended period?
- Have you had a recent illness or injury?
- Are you affected by medication, other drugs or alcohol?
If you have answered yes to one or more of these questions, you are at a higher risk of fatigue.
Culture: In the transport industry, when there’s so much emphasis on hitting schedules, and getting cargo and passengers to their destinations, there can be cultural pressure to ‘power on through’ and ‘just get it done.’ Even though there are laws which restrict the hours that people can be made to work, there are sometimes unofficial policies to stretch people’s hours or enter incorrect duty times. In circumstances like these, it can be difficult to speak up.
For situations like this, the ATSB maintains REPCON, a voluntary confidential reporting scheme for aviation, marine, and rail. It allows any person who has a safety concern to report it to the ATSB confidentially. Protection of the reporter’s identity is a primary element of the scheme.
A number of occurrences involving fatigue have been investigated by the ATSB.
Rail Safety Investigations
- Wrong running direction involving passenger train 165-S, Mt Druitt, NSW on 12 March 2015
- Multiple SPAD by freight train 9837 at Hurlstone Park, NSW on 30 January 2013
Marine Safety Investigations
- Stevedore fatality on board the general cargo ship Weaver Arrow at Newcastle, New South Wales, 23 September 2012
- The grounding of the Chinese-registered bulk carrier Shen Neng 1 at Douglas Shoal, Queensland on 30 April 2010
- Collision between the Hong Kong flag bulk cargo vessel Handymariner and the fishing vessel Lipari off the south coast of Western Australia on 18 January 2001
Aviation Safety Investigations
- Landing gear overspeed involving a Saab 340B, VH-ZRJ, near Sydney Airport, NSW on 4 December 2014
- Loss of separation involving Airbus A330, 9V-STQ and Airbus A320, VH-VFH near Tindal, NT on 24 April 2014
- Navigation event involving Embraer E170 VH-ANO 232 km north-west of McArthur River Mine, Northern Territory, 10 January 2013
- Losses of separation assurance involving Airbus A330-243, PK-GPO, and Airbus A330-341, PK-GPA near ATMAP (IFR reporting point), Western Australia, 31 March 2012
- Fatigue due to flight and duty time limitations being exceeded
- Flight crew fatigue due to the delay in the introduction of a fatigue risk management system
The ATSB safety bulletin, Fatigue and fishing crews, outlines remedial action that can be taken to reduce incidents or accidents relating to fatigue in fishing crews.
The ATSB study, Fatigue Management in the New Zealand Aviation Industry, aimed to gather information on how New Zealand aviation organisations are managing fatigue, the different strategies being used, the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches, the barriers companies are facing in managing fatigue, and the resources used or required to help organisations better manage fatigue.
The ATSB has also published a series of articles focused on addressing fatigue, including:
- Fatigue – a safety threat to those working airside
- Fatigue is a safety threat
- Pilot fatigue a major risk in combating plague locusts