How to assess fatigue on the job
The goal of the assess phase of a fatigue management process is to provide visibility to fatigue, which is often an unseen threat or at best one that people are aware of but has not been quantified or investigated. Before we can move to the next step and define our countermeasures, we need to have a very clear vision of the size and source of our fatigue risk.
How many times have you done an investigation following an incident or read the post incident report and seen a phrase like “the operator of the vehicle indicated he had fallen asleep and doesn't know how he ran into....." called out?
Let me take a wild stab at your answer and say that most of us have never had someone tell us they were asleep, tired or distracted and that was the cause of the incident. Usually things like an "equipment malfunction" or a "spotted unicorn ran in front of the truck" or "the road was in bad condition" are claimed to have caused the incident. While equipment malfunctions occur, and even wildlife can cause an incident, it is rarely the main cause. This is not to say that fatigue is always the main cause either. But without getting clarity around it through objective measures, it is then almost impossible for us to define solutions and countermeasures that effectively address the real problem.
This is not a witch hunt. The goal is not to hunt down fatigue and discipline anyone who is struggling to deal with it on an individual or supervisory level. We need to have clear reporting of fatigue and fatigue risk and when we begin to discipline immediately, the reports of fatigue stop. This ultimately leads us back to the beginning where we have no visibility to the problem without much more work.
Remember, we are simply trying to gain clarity on the size and sources of fatigue in our operation. This can only be achieved through open discussion and investigation. In particular, when we use technology to gather this information, the process and role of the technology needs to be clear to all involved.