We’ve all felt tired, we’ve all had a long day and felt weary, looking forward to getting some rest.  Fatigue can be acute, prolonged, or chronic.  Both are major considerations for the safety of aviation operations.  All personnel can suffer from fatigue, not just onboard staff.

Assuming a reasonable level of health, that is no onset of disease, acute fatigue is caused by activity within a day or two and is usually relieved by having a good rest.  Prolonged fatigue is when the activity level is such that a person feels fatigued for between one to six months.  Again, the way to relieve this is usually removal of the fatigue-inducing activity and having a longer recovery, such as a vacation or change of stress or activity demand.  Finally, chronic fatigue is when a person experiences fatigue symptoms for over six months.  Recovering from chronic fatigue usually requires a significant lifestyle change and can take a prolonged period to fully recover.

As each person is different, the symptoms of fatigue can be varied.  Some of these are:

  • Chronic tiredness or sleepiness.
  • Sore or aching muscles.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Slowed reflexes and responses.
  • Impaired decision-making and judgment.
  • Moodiness, such as irritability.

As can be seen above, having any or some of these symptoms while being involved in aviation can be extremely hazardous to the safety of the individual, other people, and the operation itself.  Sadly, many aviation companies demand so much from their staff that often these valuable assets start under-performing at best, or worse, become unsafe due to fatigue.  As mentioned, all human beings are different, so a workload that is sustainable by one individual can be fatigue-inducing with another individual.  Of course, events within one’s personal life also have an impact.

A Fatigue Report Management System (FRMS) has now become the norm in many aviation companies.  The effectiveness of this FRMS relies on firstly the staff feeling secure enough to submit a report (many companies actively discourage any FRMS reports!) and secondly the Safety Manager or responsible person having enough remit to act on any FRMS reports that are submitted.  Also, should an organisation receive ongoing FRMS reports, usually the national authority will start to want to have some clear answers? 

Safety must be the number one priority in any aviation organisation.  Having fatigued staff diminishes safety levels whereby there is a very real possibility of an incident or accident occurring.  A robust and mature FRMS that is embraced by staff and management alike goes a long way to ensure fatigue doesn’t risk the operation.