Isn’t it time to shift from fatigue to sleep management?

In this special guest post, EHS Advisor at Siemens Cedric Auge explores the often overlooked topic of fatigue and how best to manage it…

When joining Siemens UK in October 2017, I was made aware that fatigue was a primary concern of my department. I therefore chose this topic for my Masters degree in Safety and Risk Management dissertation.

I started my research journey by reflecting on my own experience with fatigue. The first one occurred in my early education when preparing for the highly selective French Army Academy’s exam. I now fully recognised that I did not manage my own fatigue properly (drinking too much coffee and sleeping regularly less than six hours a night), which ultimately led to underperforming. When studying engineering a few years later on the Army Academy Campus and then for two other Masters degrees, I applied strict sleep hygiene rules, which, I believe, participated to receiving on each occasion distinctions.

 

I also experienced fatigue in my professional life

Firstly, in my 11 years in the Forces, I have been working 24/7 with no significant regular work/rest/sleeping pattern. The combination of extensive working hours with absolutely no control over rest times, neither sleep, nor eating times, in very adverse environmental conditions led to a high levels of fatigue resulting in an increase of injuries.

Latterly, when working 12-hour shifts offshore on a saturation diving vessel in a small marine team of 4 dynamic positioning operators and then as a safety officer, managing fatigue was essential. A lack of alertness during the watch could have resulted in a collision or the death of a diver.

As Health and Safety advisor for Siemens Rail Electrification, I learned that the Rail Safety and Standards Board estimated fatigue to account for 20% of rail accidents (‘Fatigue and its contribution to rail incidents’, 2015).

shallow focus photography of railway during sunset

Beyond field roles, when discussing with my office-based colleagues, engineers and designers, I noticed some were regularly tired and not performing to their maximum capabilities. According to scientific research by RAND Europe the average British worker is not getting enough sleep, as little as less than seven hours a night, resulting in an average annual cost to the UK economy of £40 billion (‘The economic costs of insufficient sleep’, 2017).

 

Fatigue is a complex construct

Closely related to sleep, but encompassing multiple dimensions, it is still not fully understood, as illustrated by the persistence of myths between fatigue and sleep.

A traditional approach to fatigue management consists of assessing fitness; limiting working hours; fatigue modelling and shift rostering; and learning from incidents and accidents. To that effect, many organisations adopted Fatigue Risk Management Strategies, a global approach to managing fatigue. However, a pure compliance approach is not enough.

Indeed, organisational culture plays an essential part in managing fatigue: If workers certainly have a responsibility to sleep sufficiently and properly manage their life-style prior to starting work to ensure their alertness, they should also be able to report their own fatigue. But declaring oneself unfit for duty is not easy because of cultural barriers and/or because it is often difficult to assess one’s own condition. New fatigue monitoring technologies may help and ultimately provide a significant improvement.

Fatigue is a personal condition resulting from various factors, many of them depending on personal life choices. Therefore, it is essential that each individual employee owns the management of his/her personal fatigue. In the last decade, many studies have shown people tend to sleep less than in the past and this trend has a direct and significantly detrimental effect on performance at work, further compromising one’s safety, health and wellbeing.

white bed linen

Some businesses are now trying to encourage their employees to sleep better. Meanwhile, the ‘business of sleep’ is booming: high-tech apps, sleep trackers, reinvented beds are all being developed. Sleep management is taken very seriously in the US and is positively encouraged by many companies such as Google or Facebook who have installed sleep pods in their offices. While others, such as Nike at their US headquarters, have rooms designed for staff to sleep or meditate.

 

Most UK companies do not have as many sleep pods and nap rooms as the US.

However, change is coming. In January 2018, “Public Health England issued guidance to encourage managers to consider ‘sleep auditing’ their staff; to be trained to spot signs of sleep deprivation; and to warn against sending non-urgent work emails out of hours”. (Lally, ‘Why the boss wants to know how you slept’, 2018)

In order to prevent fatigue-related accidents, organisations should aim at enhancing their safety culture under the health and well-being sub-thematic. Indeed, organisations should ensure that no peer or management pressure makes employees feel uncomfortable to declare themselves unfit due to high fatigue level.

people meeting workspace team

New technologies can help reduce fatigue-related accidents. For instance Fatigue Science’s sleep tracking system used in the Crossrail project “resulted in an average increase in sleep of 27 minutes per night and a reduction of fatigue exposure by 24%.” (Butterworth, Crossrail learning legacy: fatigue management, 2018)

A PricewaterhouseCoopers 2016 survey found in England, 55% of respondents own a wearable tracking device (including smartphones with dedicated apps). While these devices become increasingly socially accepted, their occupational use, as mutually benefiting employees’ aid and corporate control, can be ethically debated when considering individual’s data privacy. Undoubtedly, the most mature health and safety organisations would foster the adhesion of their workforce towards this already proven progress.

Some of them are already leading the way in changing the world of work by sleep auditing their workforce and setting innovative, proactive measures to enhance their sleep habits in order to increase workplace safety and productivity. My research contributed to this new development by examining actual solutions to improve sleep habits and manage fatigue by conducting experiments with modern digital sleep tracking devices and sleep enhancing solutions from US, Canada and Germany.

In October 2018, I enrolled in the Stanford Graduate School of Business LEAD program in Corporate Innovation with a view to take my vision for a more efficient professional world to the next level. I look forward to keeping you updated with more news.

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Cedric Auge served 11 years in the French Army, respectively in the Intelligence, French-German and Mountain Brigades from Paratrooper to Captain.  He then worked 5 years as a Marine Officer mainly on saturation diving vessels.  Cedric

He joined the Siemens UK Graduate Development Programme in London in October 2017 in the speciality of Environment, Health and Safety.

In addition of Higher Education in Mathematics and Engineering, he holds two Masters of Science, in Safety and Risk Management and in Nautical Sciences, both awarded with distinction. He is currently an executive student in Corporate Innovation with Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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