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
- Sleep disruptions – Depending on the stage in which it occurs, sleep disruption may affect physiological functioning and/or cognitive functioning, and elevates the risk of fatigue. The risk increases when the quality or quantity of sleep has been reduced within the previous three days (acute sleep disruption) or when sleep disruptions have been sustained for periods longer than three consecutive days (chronic sleep disruption).
- Lack of sleep – Being awake for more than 17 hours (continuous wakefulness) also heightens the risk of fatigue.
- Biological clock, or circadian rhythm – Because of a daily, or circadian, rhythm, the human body is physiologically ready for sleep at night and for activity during the day. No matter the amount of rest we get, overall performance and cognitive functioning are at their worst during the nighttime period. The body's circadian rhythm also makes any sleep that occurs during the day less restorative than nighttime sleep.
- Sleep disorders – Insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders that are not effectively treated limit the quantity and quality of sleep.
- Individual factors – A person's ability to obtain restorative sleep may also be influenced by individual factors, including certain illnesses, the use of drugs or medication that affect sleep or sleepiness, or characteristics such as morningness/eveningness, or one's capacity to nap.
- Nature of work – All aspects of work influence to various degrees the alertness of staff or predisposition to sleep. For example, on a ship, the monotonous or sedentary nature of watchkeeping tasks can exacerbate the condition of an already-fatigued employee. This is particularly the case during nighttime hours, if the temperature is warm and/or the water is calm, and if a watchkeeper is alone on the bridge.
- Schedule type – Split shifts, rotating and other types of shift schedules can affect sleep opportunities and the quantity and quantity of sleep. The 6-on, 6-off shift schedule, quite common in the marine industry, alternates periods of six hours on duty, followed by six hours off duty. This type of schedule is associated with less daily sleep, poor-quality fragmented sleep, more frequent episodes of nodding off (micro-sleeps), and excessive sleepiness – especially during the early morning hours.
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:
- not work more than 14 hours in any 24-hour period, or more than 72 hours in any 7-day period; or
- have at least 10 hours of rest in every 24-hour period, and 77 hours of rest in every 7-day period.
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:
- educating employees on the causes and mitigation of fatigue
- defining appropriate policies and procedures
- ensuring that the working environment and scheduling system minimize the risk of fatigue. For example, in the marine industry, adjusting the 6-on, 6-off watch start and end times by three hours across bridge watch teams, such that nighttime hours are equally divided
- striving for continual improvement in reducing the risk of fatigue
Employees can help prevent fatigue by:
- making effective use of appropriate countermeasures if or when fatigue occurs, e.g. consuming caffeine; turning on a bright light; engaging in exercise; exposing oneself to intermittent loud noise; getting fresh (cool) air; engaging in conversation
- recognizing the signs of fatigue in themselves and in co-workers
- taking action to ensure that fatigue arising from activities inside or outside of work does not lead to performance issues
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.