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.

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