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An Interview with WorkForce Software: Why Your Organization Needs Fatigue Management

Written By: Sherry Fox
Published On: July 28 2011

What Is Fatigue Management?

Fatigue Management is the ability to measure the degree and timing of mental fatigue of workers based on their shift work patterns.

I’ve been very interested in fatigue management as of late, and whenever I have mentioned the term to my family or friends, the first thing they say is “My company needs that!” While many of us can relate to this statement, it’s important to understand that fatigue is a serious issue for many companies—especially those in industries where employees work long hours, operate heavy machinery, and where being alert is critical to people’s safety (such as in aviation, mining, transportation, and nuclear power).

You may be surprised to learn, as I was, the following industry trends relate to fatigue management:

  • There are strict regulations within certain industries surrounding fatigue management.
  • Many of today’s large organizations have begun implementing programs for managing fatigue.
  • Some vendors are piggy-backing off of existing time and attendance solutions to create fatigue management solutions.

And it’s important to note that measuring fatigue is a science all its own.

To get to the bottom of the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of fatigue management, I turned to one of today’s leading experts in workforce management, WorkForce Software. I had the opportunity to speak with Marc Moschetto, vice president (VP) of marketing for WorkForce Software, to discuss this intriguing topic.

Here are some of the highlights from our conversation:

Sherry: How would you explain the concept of fatigue management (in a nutshell) to an organization not familiar with it?
Marc: Addressing employee fatigue can be a complex and multi-faceted issue, but there are ways to simplify the process through automation. Breaking it down to its simplest form, employee fatigue management is all about: 

  1. identifying fatigue-inducing jobs or shifts within an organization,
  2. instituting programs and policies to minimize the impact of those factors, and 
  3. actively avoiding scheduling employees who may not be “fit for duty.”

This is done primarily by ensuring there is adequate rest between shifts and that a sufficient number of days off is being taken during a specific period of time. Working in unison with a time-and-attendance system, automated fatigue management solutions track an individual’s time and activities, break and shift patterns, and other factors to create a fatigue score. Managers can then define actions to be taken once that fatigue score hits a certain level (e.g., do not allow this employee to be scheduled until they have taken time off; restrict the number of tasks this person can complete until they have rested; etc.). It’s all about preserving the safety of your workplace and the health of your bottom line. 

Sherry: What are some of the risks companies face if they don’t have a fatigue management program in place?
Marc: The type or severity of risk is typically commensurate with the type of job the employee is doing. For example, the nuclear power industry was one of the first—and most proactive—groups to concretely define rest and break minimums, ascribe different fatigue levels to different jobs and different states of operation within a power plant, etc. because there could be a substantial risk to the safety of the general public. The aviation industry similarly has high risk associated with employee fatigue. In fact, there have been some recent, high-profile cases of pilot fatigue leading to tragic accidents. And, of course, the recent examples of air traffic controllers falling asleep in the tower.

It’s important to note, however, that the ill effects of employee fatigue don’t have to result in life-or-death situations. Reduced productivity, poor judgment, greater tolerance for cutting corners: all of these traits tend to be exhibited by fatigued workers. As a result, fatigue can have a detrimental effect on just about any business.

The key topic for any organization to remember is that “doing more with less” is ultimately a pretty unsustainable model. Anyone can work long hours with little to no rest in short bursts. When this mode of operation becomes the norm, not the exception, the organizations runs into trouble. Even your top performers—ironically, those who are most likely to inherit a disproportionally large share of the workload when demands exceed capacity—have a saturation point. Another risk companies face is losing key personnel who seek greener pastures and a better work-life balance.
 
Sherry: What are some of the clear benefits of having or creating a fatigue management program?
Marc: In addition to creating a safer, incident-free work environment, mitigating employee fatigue can lead to greater productivity, greater accuracy, a more positive work environment, increased employee satisfaction, and other similar benefits. Furthermore, fatigued employees tend to consume more health care and have more sick days. As a result, addressing employee fatigue can deliver tangible bottom-line benefits as well.

Sherry: Are there specific local, state, or federal laws that suggest or demand such a program or policy be in place for certain types of organizations?
Marc: Of course there are regulations governing “rest between shift” and overtime in virtually any work environment. Some states, such as California, have rules and regulations that are more stringent than others. The specific mandates around employee fatigue, however, tend to be more industry focused.

Sherry: Is there a difference in the legislations between the US and Canada?
Marc: As in the US, Canada has its own set of regulations surrounding breaks and overtime. However, from a fatigue standpoint, the regulations in both countries are tied to specific industries.

Sherry: Are all organizations or industries affected, or are these regulations directed at industries that carry higher risks (e.g., nuclear power, public service [firefighters, police], etc.).
Marc: All organizations are subject to core overtime and break rules; however, there are specific pieces of legislation governing employee fatigue and fatigue risk mitigation in several industries, including:

  • nuclear power—NRC 10 CFR 26
  • department of transportation—49 CFR 395
  • maritime & shipping providers—46 USC Sec. 8104
  • Railroad Safety Improvement Act (2008)

Additionally, some industries, such as petrochemical companies, via their Recommended Practice mandate RP755, are self-policing—enabling companies to more proactively address fatigue issues without government oversight.

For more information, readers can link to our industry regulations page.

Sherry: Can a fatigue management program help companies of any size, or is it specific to companies with many employees?
Marc: Our solution is geared toward larger organizations (those employing 1,000 or more workers) but the principles behind fatigue management—mind the schedule, capture all time and activity data for the entire workforce, and periodically review time and attendance data to ensure proper breaks are being provided—apply to every organization.

Sherry: How does a company know if creating a fatigue management program is right for them?
Marc: There are several ways one can identify a potential fatigue issue. The most glaring, of course, is when there is an accident or some other mishap that can be routed back to a fatigued employee. In a larger sense, however, businesses can keep their eye on metrics that are outside of the traditional human resources (HR) realm. For example, monitoring productivity numbers, product quality, client retention, and other such statistics, can help to identify business challenges that a fatigue management system can help address. Combining data from your workforce management system and other business systems may identify specific patterns that are of concern. For example, are you experiencing excessive overtime during the same period when you’re also experiencing quality issues? Do you have more employees consuming more health care than in previous years? Such cues could indicate that you have an issue brewing within your organization and employee base, so the effective use of analysis and reporting tools and strategies can play a key role in identifying when you need to take action.

Sherry: Where does an organization start in creating and enforcing a fatigue management program?
Marc: In some industries it’s easy. The federal government—or some other regulatory body—will issue mandates that clearly stipulate how a fatigue management program is to work (e.g., ensure that if employee type ‘x’ performs task ‘y’, he/she must have ‘z’ hours of non-work time between shifts). In other industries, the determination is not as simple. Beginning the process with an assessment from a trusted third party can help to ensure you’re getting the program off to a good start and that you’re gaining insight into the true drivers of fatigue within your organization. 

Sherry: What is Faid®Safe and how is it different from WorkForce Software’s solution?
Marc: I’m certainly not an expert on Faid®Safe, but it appears to be a great organization that takes a comprehensive approach to assessing employee fatigue. One of the fundamental differences between our solutions, however, is that WorkForce Software delivers a solution that is aimed at enforcing fatigue management best practices directly within the time-and-attendance application. We can either deliver fatigue management as part of our EmpCenter suite or work in concert with an organization’s existing time and attendance system, but our solution is aimed at proactively preventing fatigue-related issues.

Sherry: The number of fatigue-related accidents is quite staggering (Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez, aerospace and mining accidents, etc.). What are your thoughts on this?
Marc: I think these are triggered by two separate areas and, sadly, economic and business pressures play a role in both instances. First and foremost, the pressure under which most companies operate is enormous, particularly if those organizations are publicly traded. Meeting revenue and profitability goals is paramount and, unfortunately, some may be tempted to cut corners or try to maintain—or increase—the level of work using a smaller workforce.

The other side of the issue is driven by employees. Unemployment remains high. Salaries are largely stagnant. Everyone seems to have been touched in some way, shape, or form by the economic downturn. Some employees are compelled to work harder because they know there are fewer options available to them. Others may accept as much overtime as possible so they can increase their own personal nest egg and sense of security.

When these two factors are combined, they create something of a perfect storm, and the end result is the incidents we’re seeing on the news on an-all-too-frequent basis.

Sherry: How is it possible to objectively measure the degree of mental fatigue in workers, based on their shift patterns?
Marc: There are some basic physiological truths, which cannot be avoided. As humans, we are creatures geared for sleep and consistent sleep patterns—typically awake and active during the day, and resting our minds and bodies in the evening and night. The challenges for third shift workers have long been documented and there’s even an official name—Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD)ascribed to the condition.

What has been happening recently is that even non-shift−based employees are working longer, disruptive schedules. This can be exacerbated if individuals are performing tasks that are repetitive, involve physical exertion, or involve working in dangerous environments. The addition of stress can also accelerate or amplify fatigue. Being able to measure and score these activities helps employers to create and enforce guidelines aimed at safeguarding their business from the detrimental effects of fatigue. Each individual has his or her own tolerance for fatigue-inducing activities, but establishing guidelines and internal mandates can help the vast majority of employees minimize working when fatigued and insulate the company from fatigue-related risks.

Sherry: What is the cost to a company that doesn’t adopt a fatigue management policy?
Marc: This can vary widely by industry. For example, if a nuclear power plant is found to be in noncompliance with their fatigue management regulations, they can be slapped with fines or even shut down. This impacts both bottom-line costs and top-line revenue generation capabilities. Outside of fines and potential litigation, organizations are at risk through the outward manifestations of fatigue within the business: poor quality, poor consistency, more sick days taken, more health care consumed, and other such negative implications.

Sherry: What’s the bottom line?
Marc: The bottom line is that both employees and employers are under extraordinary pressure. In your quest to meet corporate goals and initiatives, it’s important to remember that although employees are assets, they’re not machines. Individuals need downtime to recharge their batteries, refocus their minds, and ensure they are operating at peak (or at least passable) levels of performance. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure that happens.

 

Conclusion

It’s clear that fatigue continues to be an issue for many organizations—big or small. For businesses in specific industries or environments, ensuring the health and safety of employees (and ultimately clientele) is even more critical. Studies have shown that fatigue is increasingly impacting the productivity and safety of today’s workplaces. Enforcement of a fatigue management policy (in line with government regulations) can be the first step toward a safer workplace.

Together with the right technology (e.g., time and attendance, fatigue management solutions, etc.), organizations can begin to see the benefits of having a fatigue management policy in place (not only for the benefit of their employees, but also for their own bottom line).

 

Solutions for Fatigue Management

WorkForce Software—WorkForce Software, Inc. provides workforce management solutions for large employers with complex policies and compliance concerns. Its EmpCenter Fatigue Management solution proactively monitors employee work hours. EmpCenter then notifies HR and supervisors before work hour limits are exceeded to ensure the organization maintains compliance and employees are alert.

Circadian—Circadian® designs and implements fatigue risk management systems (FRMS). Circadian offers a wide range of consulting services and tools surrounding fatigue management and related areas.

Fatigue Management Solutions—Fatigue Management Solutions specializes in applied sleep or fatigue research and management.

Faid@Safe—Faid®Safe is a fatigue safety system that is built on three levels of protection and designed so that all industrial organizations can establish adequacy of current and future controls that protect against inherent fatigue hazards. Faid®Safe is based on a diagnosis of operational, capacity, and cultural exposures, coupled with the development of primary, secondary, and tertiary safeguards.

 
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