Managing Fatigue: An Investigator's Role

It’s important to manage fatigue risk because people need to be awake and alert to do their jobs safely and efficiently. The effects of serious fatigue are comparable to being over the drink driving limit for alcohol. Fatigue can seriously affect our safety. Long-term fatigue is also bad for our physical and mental health.

An investigator’s role in managing fatigue risk

As an investigator, you play an important role in managing fatigue risk, because you give your company information whether its arrangements for managing fatigue risk are working.
Your responsibilities are to:

  • Learn about alertness and fatigue, what causes fatigue and what its effects are on people. Explore the Fatigue and you section of our website.
  • Follow your company’s procedures to investigate safety events, and always ask yourself whether fatigue could have been a factor.
  • Use our guidance (requires SPARK login) on investigating fatigue, in conjunction with other investigation tools and techniques you use, to work out whether people involved in the safety event were affected by fatigue and whether this was a factor in the safety event.
  • If a person was tired, always try to understand why. Our research has shown that it is critical for an investigator to consider work related factors and also personal factors such as family issues that may have impacted on effective management of fatigue.
  • Consider all of the ways that your company manages fatigue, whether they were sufficient, and what risk controls failed on this occasion.
  • If your investigation uncovers a problem to do with fatigue, make recommendations which will address those problems. 
  • Promote a 'fair' culture (requires member login) where fatigue can be openly discussed, staff understand the expectations on them, and where staff can report fatigue concerns without fear. Remember, sometimes, even those with the best of intentions may not be able to get enough sleep or rest.


Positive investigator behaviour in managing fatigue

How you behave as an investigator can have an enormous positive or negative impact on the management of fatigue risk. If people learn that you are fair in dealing with fatigue issues that come up in investigations, and recommend positive changes to improve how fatigue is managed, they are more likely to be open and honest with you about fatigue. If people feel like they are judged, accused or punished when they bring up fatigue in an investigation, or if they think that you are not making the right recommendations, they are likely to start to hide useful information about fatigue. This can damage the investigation of fatigue, which often relies on open discussions with people involved in the safety event.

  • Think about what you can do to create an open and honest interview to gather information about fatigue, following a safety event. Consider what you will say, how you will say it, and how you will respond to what your interviewee might say.
  • Make yourself easily available for those who need to talk to you about fatigue.
  • Encourage people to talk about fatigue; show them respect and listen to what they have to say. 
Images owned and sourced from: RAIB
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