The ‘instrumented human’? Organisational approaches to fatigue management

Fatigue is better understood as 'tiredness' for most of us.  Sometimes we recognise it all too easily and at other times we don’t and it overtakes us: e.g. falling asleep on the sofa in front of the TV or at the wheel of our car.

Some descriptionJohn Wilkinson, Principal Human Factors Consultant, delivered a joint paper at IChemE Hazards 25 on the contribution of fatigue to the Buncefield incident. Despite this and the many other major accidents where tiredness has contributed significantly, he was reminded that there is still much to do.  Questions from the audience seemed to focus too much on the 'person' side of tiredness rather than the 'job' or 'organisational' contribution.  It was implied that individuals should monitor their own tiredness better and be responsible for stopping work accordingly (or 'being more careful').

John reflects: “My instant simple vision was of the 'instrumented human' i.e. something a mad engineer (Dr Frank N. Stein, Control and Instrumentation Specialist?) might design to allow the individual and others to ‘read’ and monitor their tiredness level.  Of course some new car designs build in simple surrogates for tiredness (e.g. eye tracking or steering wheel ‘wandering’) but the idea of 'instrumenting' people is not very feasible.  A gadget might tell someone their blood pressure is low, or a control room interface might track control room operator eye movement, but this would only be part of any solution.  After all, if it’s night-time then the operator should be tired shouldn’t he / she?”

So what’s the answer?  Integrating sensible tiredness management into the safety management system, just like any other risk. You can start with a 'Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS)' to get initial focus but full integration is better.  Also the focus should be on the contribution of the person, the job and the organisation, so it’s not all about personal monitoring and 'taking care'. 

For more information on how to manage tiredness see read about our Fatigue Management services.

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