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Stay Alert: Incorporate Fatigue into Risk Management

January
2020

Many factors — both work-related and personal — can cause workers to become fatigued, which can contribute to safety incidents. A strategic approach to fatigue-hazard identification and risk mitigation can prevent or reduce adverse outcomes.

Human fatigue is a challenging issue in safety and risk management. Imagining fatigue as a factor that can lead to potential safety incidents seems rational and intuitive. However, managing fatigue risks in practice can prove to be quite challenging. It is difficult to realistically assess work-related fatigue and develop risk-assessable scenarios that link fatigue hazards to incidents. This article reviews these challenges and offers some practical solutions.

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Figure 1. Fatigue impairs human performance, which creates performance gaps that can precipitate safety incidents. Fatigue risk mitigation should focus on the likelihood and potential consequences that are associated with this event chain.

Fatigue is a state of reduced mental or physical performance capability caused by sleep loss, circadian rhythm challenges and disruptions (e.g., jet-lag or nightshift work causing drowsiness), difficult tasks, or some combination of these factors (1, 2). Workers can become fatigued from long commutes, shiftwork, stress, and assignments that are cognitively and physically demanding. Fatigue causes mental or physical impairment, which precipitates safety incidents (Figure 1).

Fatigue risk is assessed by considering both the probability that a particular fatigue hazard will lead to an incident and the potential severity of such an incident.

The link between fatigue hazards and safety incidents is supported by a history of catastrophic industry incidents, safety statistics, and a sizeable body of scientific literature. Managing the risks posed by those hazards requires an understanding of the relationship between them...

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