AMSA has developed guidance to assist owners and operators of commercial vessels to identify and manage fatigue in their operations.
What is fatigue?
atigue is a state of weariness. It can develop quickly, for example if you are doing heavy lifting. It can also develop slowly, for example if you lose an hour of sleep a few nights in a row.
A survey of more than 1000 crew working across a wide range of commercial vessels in Australia found a concerning knowledge gap when it came to identifying and managing fatigue. Of the 1000 survey participants:
- One in three began work on a vessel already in a fatigued state
- 40% had less than six hours of sleep in any given 24-hour period
- Survey participants struggled to identify lesser-known behavioural signs of fatigue like slurred speech and risk taking
- 50% had not received any fatigue management training or guidance.
What causes fatigue and how can you manage it?
Lack of quality sleep, body clock disruptions, work tasks and structure, environmental factors in the workplace, lifestyle including diet and personal responsibilities at home, all influence the onset of fatigue and should be considered as part of a holistic approach to managing fatigue.
Lack of quality sleep
Generally, people need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night to perform adequately and effectively. Any less than this can result in fatigue. Most accidents involving fatigue follow a lack of sleep or poor quality sleep. Poor quality sleep is when your sleep is disturbed by things like light, noise, motion, alcohol, drugs or stress. Fatigue can also accumulate when you do not get extra sleep to make up for lost sleep – sometimes referred to as a ‘sleep debt’.
Body clock disruptions
Humans have evolved to spend about a third of their lives sleeping. Our body clocks naturally program us to be drowsy in the late afternoon and sleep at night. Shift work is sometimes an unavoidable part of working on the water, which is why body clock disruptions must be carefully managed to reduce the risk of fatigue impacting safety.
Work and job design
Common features of work and job design that lead to fatigue are:
- A long workday
- Physical tasks
- Boring or repetitive work
- Few or no breaks
- A pay system that encourages long hours
- Inadequate time for sleep between work operations
- Unpredictable work schedules
- Sleep opportunities during natural times of high alertness
- Mentally demanding tasks.
The maritime work environment is stressful on crew and can make fatigue from lack of sleep worse. Common environmental stressors on crew are cold, vibration, heat, noise and vessel motion.
Lifestyle and home
The impacts of a crew member’s lifestyle and home demands must be factored into an holistic approach to fatigue management.
Balancing the need for time at work, commuting to and from work, time with loved ones and other personal responsibilities at home often results in sacrifices being made when it comes to quality sleep.
Diet, fitness, alcohol and drug use are lifestyle factors that can also impact quality sleep and a crew member’s susceptibility to fatigue.