Monday, February 23, 2015

Fatigue Series - DEFINE

Define it.

If we have properly Engaged leadership and stakeholders, and gone through a rigorous Assessment, we should have a fairly clear picture of the size and shape of our fatigue problem.  This makes defining our set of solutions a bit simpler.  We no longer have to guess what issues we need to address.

Our primary goal in the Define phase is to create a practical, effective management system. A system that predicts, measures and mitigates fatigue and distraction and provides operators tools and knowledge to improve their alertness.   That’s quite a mouthful so let me break it down another way:  In the Define phase, we are building the framework, structure and guiding principles that will drive the specific countermeasures and layers of protection in the Develop phase.  We are not yet creating the specific countermeasures, programs, interventions and technologies that will be implemented later.  Rather, we are identifying the high level areas that we want to focus on.  For example, we may identify that we want to include some form of training and education on how individuals can manage their fatigue.  But we are not yet determining the method of delivery, scope, materials, etc.  Similarly, we may identify that we want to utilize some form of technology to monitor fatigue but we aren’t yet deciding which technology and how it will be implemented.

Another key component of the Define phase is the definition of our criteria for success.  Here we can again refer back to our assess phase for some help.  Because we have already determined how to measure fatigue and its impact on individuals and our operation, we can use many of these metrics to determine whether we are having a positive outcome following implementation.  It is important and not entirely obvious, that the metrics should provide the correct measurements.  For example, to determine whether our training program has had a positive impact on operator fatigue, number of tons moved may not be the best metric as compared to something like health care costs, absenteeism or turnover.

Be very meticulous about defining your FRMS framework and the measurements of success.  The success metrics in particular are important to show not only your improvements, but also where you may have missed the mark and need to make adjustments.  Remember, an FRMS is a constantly evolving system which means that the framework you develop in the Define stage needs to be flexible and able to incorporate changes.

Until next time, ask around the neighborhood about FRMS.  Benchmarking with other organizations can be a great way to help you define your own FRMS.

 Todd D.

Monday, February 16, 2015


I received several questions about our last installment regarding the Assess phase.  So I wanted to revisit the topic and try to provide some more information and clarity.

First, the goal of the assess phase is to provide visibility to fatigue, which is often an unseen threat or at best one that people are aware of but has not been quantified or investigated. Before we can move to the next step and define our countermeasures, we need to have a very clear vision of the size and source of our fatigue risk.

How many times have you done an investigation following an incident or read the post incident report and seen a phrase like “the operator of the vehicle indicated he had fallen asleep and doesn't know how he ran into....." called out? Let me take a wild stab at your answer and say that most of us have never had someone tell us they were asleep, tired or distracted and that was the cause of the incident. Usually things like an "equipment malfunction" or a "spotted unicorn ran in front of the truck" or "the road was in bad condition" are claimed to have caused the incident. While equipment malfunctions occur, and even wildlife can cause an incident, it is rarely the main cause. This is not to say that fatigue is always the main cause either. But without getting clarity around it through objective measures, it is then almost impossible for us to define solutions and countermeasures that effectively address the real problem.

Second, this is not a witch hunt.  The goal is not to hunt down fatigue and discipline anyone who is struggling to deal with it on an individual or supervisory level.  We need to have clear reporting of fatigue and fatigue risk and when we begin to discipline immediately, the reports of fatigue stop.  This ultimately leads us back to the beginning where we have no visibility to the problem without much more work.  Again, remember we are simply trying to gain clarity on the size and sources of fatigue in our operation.  This can only be achieved through open discussion and investigation.  In particular, when we use technology to gather this information, the process and role of the technology needs to be clear to all involved. 

This approach of open communication and investigation will provide significant paybacks now as we move into the next step of Define and also later as we get into the Check phase later in our process.

Until next time,

Todd D.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Fatigue Series - ASSESS

Assessing Fatigue Risk or “Where is that squeak coming from?”

Ensuring a systematic approach based on objective data and information is one of the most crucial elements in the ASSESS stage of the development and implementation of a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS).  Without this objective assessment, there is also not a clear way to measure the impact of the countermeasures that are put in place.

Ever heard the phrase “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”?  This is common in the approach that many use around implementing fatigue solutions.  One person or a group of people complains about the schedule, the shift rotation or start/end times of the shifts until it is changed.  Or one individual has an incident that “seems” to be related to fatigue and an onslaught of new policies, procedures and programs are implemented to reduce the risk of that incident occurring again.  But this approach may not necessarily reduce the risk.  It also isn’t based on objective, measurable data or information.  It is a knee-jerk reaction.

The goal of the assessment is to measure the overall impact fatigue plays in an operation.  The use of technology often plays a large role in assessing fatigue risk but is neither required nor the only means of measurement.  For example, a detailed analysis of past incidents with a focus on time of day and other fatigue related factors can provide strong insight into trends in fatigue risk.  Similarly, a deep review of workers’ compensation, health care costs and even absenteeism and turnover can provide indications of the level of fatigue employees may be experiencing. 

There are many different types of technology that can be used as part of a comprehensive fatigue risk assessment.  These include validated surveys like the Safety Perception Survey, fatigue modeling software such as FAST, sleep/alertness wearables like the Readiband and in-cab fatigue detection solutions like the Driver Safety System (DSS).  When utilizing technology in a fatigue risk assessment, it is crucial to manage its introduction and use.  Improper and ineffective introduction of technology can derail efforts toward the development and implementation of an FRMS.  More detail on the most effective use of technology will follow in later posts.

With the results of a comprehensive fatigue risk assessment in hand, the scope of fatigue risk and its impact on the safety of the workforce, the operation itself and the excess costs of fatigue can be determined.  These “pain points” then lead to the next stage of FRMS development, which is to DEFINE the countermeasures that address the fatigue risks.  This will be the topic of our next post.    Until then, have a look at the last year or two of incidents in your operation and try to identify trends in the timing of the incidents.  Clusters of incidents in the early morning hours are often a strong indicator that fatigue played some part….

Until next time,

Todd D.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Fatigue Series - ENGAGE

Do as I say, not as I do.  Or else.

As a young child, I would occasionally ask my parents why I had to do something (OK, maybe more than just occasionally).  I remember at a very early age the reason they gave me was,  “Because I’m the parent and I say so.”  It didn’t matter that they didn’t seem to be brushing their teeth when I did or making their bed when I was told to; even though I knew that they did those things too.

This brings us to the first step in the development and implementation of a comprehensive Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS): ENGAGE. 

When we hear the word engage, we often think of how we need to engage the workforce to embrace the new program we are rolling out, or the new technology we are installing.  But in this case, we are talking about engaging LEADERSHIP. 

I remember conducting a shiftwork and fatigue training course to a group of hourly employees at a power generation plant in Colorado.  During one of the breaks, I introduced myself to a young worker who seemed to be distracted and definitely not engaged in the information and materials.  In a roundabout way I eventually asked him if he thought the information was useful.  He replied that, yes, he thought it was useful, but that he wouldn’t really be able to use it because he knew his supervisor wouldn’t support many of the concepts so why bother.

Would an engaged, educated, visible and supportive supervisor, manager, executive have made a difference in this case?  You can count on it.  Not to say that some benefit might not be achieved when we implement an FRMS in an operation where management is not fully supportive or engaged, but how much do we miss out on when we don’t have strong positive engagement?  We can’t know for sure. 

In the first stages of developing and implementing an FRMS, we focus on engaging the leadership to arm them with the knowledge and information necessary to truly make managing fatigue a core value in the culture of the operation.  Without this essential support, the foundation for the FRMS is weak and susceptible to crumbling over time.  Caterpillar Safety Services utilizes tools like on-site workshops and the safety perception survey to engage leadership around the value and benefits of a comprehensive FRMS. 

Once we have an engaged leadership team, we can then dig into the ASSESS phase, where we begin to determine the sources, size and cost of fatigue and fatigue risk in an operation.  Over the next week, consider how you can engage leadership.

Until next time,
Todd D

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fatigue Series - Introduction

This new fatigue blog series is written by Caterpillar Safety Services’ Fatigue Services Manager and Senior Consultant Todd Dawson. Over the past 20 years, Todd has become one of the leading experts in developing and implementing comprehensive fatigue risk management systems in large and complex environments. He has played an integral role in shaping the landscape of fatigue management, particularly in the transportation and oil/gas industries. Recently, he has focused many of his efforts in the pipeline industry and assisted companies with fatigue mitigation due to PHMSA regulations. Todd mixes a strong academic and research background with invaluable real world experience to provide fatigue management solutions that are both practical and effective. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Anthropology from Harvard University.

It’s 4 a.m.; do you know where your circadian rhythms are? 

We often misunderstand our quest to manage fatigue.  We attempt to eliminate it or expect that through our efforts it will go away.  Whether it is through caffeine, changes in behavior, or fatigue detecting technology, we do our best to improve our alertness.  But believing that fatigue will ever be eliminated is just not feasible.  However, understanding that we will ALL experience fatigue is crucial to implementing programs, policies and solutions to MANAGE and MITIGATE fatigue.

Once we understand that we will all experience fatigue, and some of us in drastically different ways than others, we can then begin the journey to create multiple layers of protection against the potentially devastating effects of fatigue in the workplace. 

So, where are your circadian rhythms at 4 a.m.?  For most of us, they are nearing the lowest point regarding alertness.  Many other biological systems are slowed down and other systems (like those that put us to sleep) are at their highest.  Our human machine just wasn’t designed for working through the night.  While some of us are night owls and like to stay up late (and sleep in when we can), we still aren’t fit for staying up all night.  So, how do we deal with the challenges of working night shifts?  Do we just caffeinate and tough it out?  That has been the practice for many years and hasn’t eliminated fatigue.  One way to begin to consider how to manage and mitigate is to consider countermeasures that incorporate people, process and technology. 

But through a systematic process such as a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS), we can understand the source of the challenges better and put in place the countermeasures to mitigate the possible negative outcomes and significantly minimize risk. Over the coming weeks, we will examine each of these in a bit more detail.  Keeping these three elements in mind, we can then begin to identify layers of protection in our FRMS that will mitigate the chance that fatigue has to lead to a negative outcome.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

De Rigueur – A safety strength

Regulations and standards often seem to get in the way of the day-to-day operational decisions we have to make to keep things going.  As I have been involved with industries across our planet, I have noticed the people involved in operations have a “get ‘er done” attitude in the workforce.  The personal push to deliver the end result makes a difference in throughput performance.  And the safety professionals cringe at the shortcuts that are taken in order to get ‘er done. 

The dangers to people, equipment and environment have led numerous industries to investigate, study and experiment with the variables until the optimum performance and safety interaction is determined.  This work resulted in documents, policies, procedures and principles which assist organizations to deliver world class operations, safety and environmental performance.  In the power distribution industry, the SSM (Safety Systems Manual) is consistently updated to reflect new technology and field learnings that make a difference.  Mining typically has FRP (Fatal Risk Protocols), the safety protocols that when violated have proven to lead to fatalities.  Numerous industries publish and train cardinal rules; safety protocols that must not be broken and if they are will lead to employee and manager terminations.

And yet over time without de rigueur, a culture of rigorous adherence to these kinds of standards, the “go-getter” culture seems to regress into dangerous practices that get a little more done.  This leads people to hear words such as, “We haven’t had that kind of accident for a long time.  I am sure we will be ok just this once.”  Once this assumption starts, the slippery slope to the next disaster rears its ugly head.  This can cause new employees to learn the culture of accommodation that replaces a culture of correct.   Many of you safety professionals and I have experienced the tragic results that show up down this kind of pothole packed road.

One of the strengths of our safety profession is that “we don’t make assumptions – we make informed decisions.”  We are all a part of the support staff that is to make sure we have not joined the slippery slope culture. We do this by observing, researching the information banks, informing leadership, and training the appropriate personnel. In the world of safety accountability, this process would be termed Define – Train – Measure – Recognize / Feedback.

Think about this kind of reality check in your organization.  What important standards are our people starting to bend?  What informed decisions can you help deliver that will help to move the safety culture back on the correct track?

The Doc

Monday, January 12, 2015

Rocking Chair Safety – Staying involved

When my Papa retired, he had to adjust to the different kinds of involvement in his life. Mom was glad to have him at home most of the time and she quickly developed what looked to be an endless “to do list.”  This was good because all too often the retiree seems to vegetate into a mental and physical death.  However, my Papa also believed there should be a limit to all the “honey do projects” one is given to execute.  His escape mechanism became being a volunteer van driver for the local community’s senior wheels transportation program and a couple of other local and family volunteer activities.  I guess I could quote Papa as saying “Variety was the spice of life.” 

One day, while I was across the room and he sat in a rocking chair, more words of wisdom were shared. He said, “Son, don’t let your career or life become that of this here rocking chair.  Such a focus on comfort above all else in life makes you feel good, but you get nowhere.”   This inspiration has not led me to change jobs whenever the tasks became comfortable.  Rather, it has led me to frequently be available to others needs when I could have just as easily opted out by rocking away in a non-engaged comfort zone.  In turn, this kind of decision could soon become a one way ticket to a self imposed oblivion.  Yes, now that he has passed away, I do have my Papa’s old rocking chair in our home.  However, I only use it in the evenings when a favorite program, book or grandchild demands my attention.  The rest of the time I try to keep rocking on by using the talents and abilities I have been given to help my wife, family, current employer and others.

The Doc     

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