The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has identified personnel fatigue as a critical issue in aviation, and sleep deprivation is one reason why, notes Tarek Loutfy, senior operations and flight safety manager at GE Aviation and a former chair of the HAI Safety Working Group. “Losing even an hour of sleep over the course of a week will produce conditions that negatively affect performance,” he says.
Below are five dos and don’ts for line managers to mitigate operational risks associated with fatigue.
- DO understand the many causes of fatigue, and familiarize yourself with the physical, mental, and emotional signs people exhibit when tired. Loutfy recommends making a fatigue risk-management plan part of every operator’s safety management system. Duke Puharich, director of safety for Siller Helicopters, explains the risk of fatigue in aerial firefighting operations particularly. “Fatigue comes from weather, from stress, from the length of the fire season, and access to resources,” he says. “We make sure everything is available to our mechanics, that they have enough nuts and bolts in stock, because it’s important to make sure nothing is holding them back.”
- DO implement fatigue countermeasures, including working in teams (especially mixing experienced personnel with less-experienced colleagues), limiting hours, rotating tasks, and following checklists. “Often, you can have someone who’s done something for 20 years … and sometimes they’ll skip a step or two that can be crucial to the process,” Loutfy says.
- DON’T ignore compliance and disclosure regulations. “The FAA recognizes that mistakes happen,” says Robert Lakind, an aviation attorney formerly with Szaferman, Lakind, Blumstein, & Blader and now with Fields Howell. “If the mistake’s inadvertent and you come forward and voluntarily disclose it and work to prevent it from happening again, usually it’s unlikely the FAA will issue you a violation. Conversely, if you make a mistake and put your head in the sand and just hope the FAA’s not going to find you … then they’re going to have a much different reaction.”
- DO align company leadership with your operational goals. Behind a well-functioning team, you’ll find strong support from management. “You’ve got to get leadership’s buy-in,” Puharich says. “You’re going to be asking for things you need out in the field to help you deal with fatigue. And fatigue comes all sorts of ways. [In aerial firefighting,] you’re out there 12 to 14 hours a day minimum. It takes a lot out of you.”
- DON’T let an employee skate by impaired at work. Line managers need to help their teams recognize the effect even a slight impairment might have on their work while creating a supportive culture. “If you had an evening where you’ve had more going on than normal, whether it’s a baby up all night or you were out too late with friends—at some point, you need to be fair to yourself and your company,” Loutfy says. “I’d prefer you take the day off, recuperate, and we start over the next day, and I’ll deal with the ramifications of missing that individual that day.”
Thanks to HAI President and CEO James Viola, HAI Director of Flight Operations and Maintenance Zac Noble, and the panelists in the Jul. 8, 2021, HAI@Work webinar “Fatigue and Maintenance Duty Cycle Management.” To learn more about how to mitigate the risk of fatigue in your operations, watch the recording of the webinar at hai.rotor.org/Vx45u9.