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Fatigue in the marine industry: risk factors, mitigation strategies and fatigue management

Fatigue is widely recognized as a hazard in the transportation industry. In the marine sector, it has contributed to many accidents internationally. Since 1993, the TSB has made six recommendations to help reduce the risk of fatigue in marine transportation, particularly among marine pilots, dispatching staff and watchkeepers. What is still needed is greater awareness and education on the risk factors and mitigation strategies as well as fatigue management plans that cover everything from policies to work arrangements and training.

Restorative sleep – the best antidote to fatigue

According to scientific research, to help prevent the risk of fatigue, sleep should ideally occur at night in a period of seven to nine continuous hours so that all stages of sleep occur during each sleep period. For a normal nighttime sleeper, deep sleep occurs early in the sleep period, while rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs in the second half. Deep sleep likely serves a physiologically restorative function, while REM sleep contributes more to restoring cognitive processes.

Risk factors for fatigue

Mitigation strategies

To effectively manage the risks of fatigue in the marine industry, organizations must adopt a proactive approach that includes compliance with regulations and an education program that enables employees to identify and take preventative measures that go beyond the regulations.

Work-rest requirements – To minimize the risk of fatigue, the Marine Personnel Regulations require that crew members of foreign vessels in Canadian waters:

Education and awareness – The prevention of fatigue in the workplace is a shared responsibility between an organization and its employees.

An organization can help prevent fatigue by:

Employees can help prevent fatigue by:

Current fatigue management tools for the transportation industry

In the marine sector, a fatigue management and awareness training program was developed for marine pilots in response to TSB Recommendation M96-18 (read more about new and previous TSB recommendations to address the risk of fatigue in the marine sector). In addition to the research report (TP 13958E), the program includes the Fatigue Management Guide for Canadian Marine Pilots (TP 13959) and the Trainer's Handbook (TP 13960).

Masters, chief officers, electro-technical officers, and officers in charge of the navigational watch on ships of 500 gross tonnage or more will soon have access to a training module on managing fatigue and stress. This training will be required to obtain a new or upgraded certificate of competency.

On 31 May 2018, the TSB issued Recommendations M18-01 and M18-02 to help ensure that other watchkeepers whose work and rest periods are regulated by the Marine Personnel Regulations have the tools needed to recognize and address the risks of fatigue.  

Annex A of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) includes standards for leadership, teamwork, and managerial skills at the operational and management levels. Building on these standards, a Transport Canada policy (2017) addresses the mandatory requirements for leadership, teamwork, and managerial skills.

The United States Coast Guard has developed a Crew Endurance Management System to assist in managing the risk factors that can lead to human error and performance degradation in maritime work environments.

In the rail sector, a document entitled Fatigue Management Plans: Requirements and Assessment Guidelines helps companies develop the plans that they must file with Transport Canada in order to meet the industry's Work/Rest Rules for Railway Operating Employees.

In the civil aviation sector, Transport Canada provides guidance, in the form of a toolbox, to companies that voluntarily adopt a fatigue risk management system.