Fatigue is a serious threat to workplace safety. As we have discussed in the past, fatigue has even played a role in some of the biggest disasters of our time, including Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl, and the Challenger explosion. The risk of a fatigue-related incident increases for people who work ‘odd’ hours: shift workers, those who work at night, people who are on call, and those who work regular overtime.
As employers come to realize the important role they play in keeping their team well rested and safe, many are developing fatigue risk management plans (FRMP). A fatigue risk management plan (or fatigue management plan) is a document that brings together all the causes, controls and strategies for dealing with fatigue in the workplace in order to keep team members safe.
Unfortunately, writing an effective fatigue risk management plan can be difficult because there is no one-size-fits-all formula for creating and implementing it; each must be customized to reflect the size, scope, and conditions of your specific workplace.
That said, there are several elements that all successful FRMPs have in common. Keep these things in mind when you are creating a fatigue risk management plan for your business, or if you already have one, use these guidelines to evaluate its strength.
7 Elements of a Successful Fatigue Risk Management Plan
1. Statement of Intent and Scope
A good fatigue risk management plan starts out by clearly stating the organization’s commitment to managing the safety risks associated with fatigue. After this concise statement, you should then specify scope (the sites, operations, and tasks to which it applies), and define the roles and responsibilities of all applicable parties (employees, supervisors, various departments, senior management, etc.)
2. Statement of Acceptable Work Hours and Overtime Limits
The fatigue risk management plan should also state the acceptable limits to ensure that workers do not surpass what is deemed appropriate or safe. Acceptable limits may be set by the company itself or by state, federal or industry regulations. This section may include limits on the maximum work hours in a standard day, weekly and monthly hours, maximum overtime hours, and guidelines for breaks and rest periods between scheduled shifts.
3. Identifying and Assessing Risk
The fatigue risk management plan must document all areas of potential risk in the workplace, which requires thoughtful consideration of where fatigue-related safety issues may happen and who is at risk. Address the highest risks first, and allow employees to contribute, as they understand day-to-day working practices that managers may not be fully aware of.
4. Minimizing and Controlling Risk
Pinpointing potential risks leads to another important component of a good fatigue management plan: documenting how you may minimize and control each risk to improve workplace safety. Changing start times, rearranging or reassigning duties, providing napping opportunities, improving lighting, hanging posters as reminders, pairing workers together, using checklists, and screening/treating sleep disorders are all possible ways to minimize safety issues. Make sure solutions address each specific risk, and that the procedures for mitigating risk are spelled out clearly so everyone can follow them.
5. Investigating Fatigue Incidents
When a safety incident does happen in the workplace, your fatigue risk management plan should have a procedure for investigating whether fatigue has played a role and how it may be managed in the future. Did the individual have sufficient time off to get enough sleep? Were they exhibiting signs of fatigue? Were the errors that occurred the result of fatigue or something else? What other factors were at play?
In addition to spelling out how incidents should be investigated, the FRMP should also have a procedure for workers to self-report their own fatigue. Workplace safety is everyone’s responsibility, and having a supportive work culture can help employees feel comfortable to report fatigue before an accident happens.
6. Awareness and Training
Awareness and training are arguably the most important components of a successful fatigue risk management plan because the plan can only work if people know about it and are able to learn the skills and procedures that will increase their own safety. All team members that fall within the scope of the FRMP should understand what the FRMP is, what safety procedures are in place, and how the FRMP applies to their own job and responsibilities.
- Keep employees engaged through various forms of communication (email, company website, posters, safety newsletters, etc.).
- Create a training program to equip workers with the skills and knowledge they need to understand and comply with the fatigue risk management plan. This should include not only initial training but also periodic refresher courses and workshops on specific topics.
- Remember to include sleep-safety in your training courses! The root cause of fatigue-related incidents is sleep deprivation, which is an individual factor. While you can mitigate the risks of fatigue in the workplace, you can only truly combat it if your workers understand the importance of sleep and learn how to develop habits to ensure they get quality sleep they need, despite their irregular work schedule.
7. Auditing and Improving
It is helpful to think of the fatigue risk management plan as a living document—one that is never ‘final’ but instead will constantly evolve as new risks are identified, and new procedures for dealing with risks are created. Include in your plan a process for auditing the document annually to make changes or identify weak areas. Evaluate how well your FRMP is doing through subjective and objective data, and seek for constant improvement.
A successful FRMP will help improve employee health, morale, work satisfaction and well-being while boosting the safety and productivity of your company. For more information on creating a fatigue risk management plan (or evaluating your current one), we recommend this robust guide created by Energy Institute.
And when you are ready to implement the all-important training element of your FRMP, contact us about our Corporate Sleep Solutions, education and consultation to help your team get better rest so they can be their best!