FRMS and the Accountable Executive

If you are not required to have a fatigue risk management system (FRMS) now, you will be soon enough.  Regulators are quickly catching up to fatigue science and realizing that sleep-related fatigue poses serious risks to safety and health. I foresee a day when every 24/7 operation will have to demonstrate exactly how they manage fatigue. Call it a fatigue risk management system, a fatigue management plan (FMP) or even an alertness management system (AMS), whatever you like, you will need to show exactly how you are managing fatigue.

City night

The first thing you should do to set up your FRMS is choose your accountable executive. This is the person “on the hook” and ultimately responsible for all matters fatigue related. If the regulator comes knocking, they are going to want to talk to the the accountable executive. If you are a small operator, this might be you, the owner or a shareholder. If you are a large operator with a hierarchical org chart, it could be the VP of Operations, Director of Occupational Health and Safety or even the Chief Financial Officer. Just make sure your accountable executive, whom I call the “Fatigue Coach”, understands that they have a vested interest in making the FRMS succeed and that they are ready to be intimately involved with the process of setting it up.

The next step is to start generating interest in setting up the FRMS. This is when the Fatigue Coach sends out a company wide electronic message in which they describe two things they dislike about feeling fatigued at home and at work (the order is important). It might be something about how they don’t like feeling slow and sluggish, how they don’t like being cranky with their romantic partner or how they get less done when they don’t feel like working because they are fatigued.

The message should also link fatigue to the effects on sleep that aspects of their home and work lives have (we are talking about sleep-related fatigue after all, and again, the order is important). One example for both, home and work lives, should be given. For instance, here is an opening sentence with two possible links: “How is your fatigue? I have noticed that my fatigue is worse when I am stressed about my children and I wake up more and that my fatigue is also worse when my work hours are all over the place and I am not getting regular sleep.”

A key point here is that the message should be genuine and the Fatigue Coach should be open and honest. Don’t just copy and paste what I have said here, the Fatigue Coach has to put some thought into it and express how they feel. A tip for the Fatigue Coach is to look for two fatigue related things they would like to change because that leads to the next step.

Before we go there, let me point out three deliberate aspects of this message. First, notice that I said “sends out a company wide message”. To ensure the highest level of safety and the most effective system, make sure your FRMS applies to everyone. This includes people directly employed by the company as well as contractors, service providers, unions, board members and visitors to company property. This approach is consistent with the philosophy behind contemporary safety management, it applies to everyone. Fatigue impacts safety, so any fatigue management system should also apply to everyone.

Secondly, I stated that the message should be electronic, as in e-mail, SMS/Text or e-newsletter, etc. FRMS’s need to capture a lot of data. The easiest way to capture data is electronically. You want people to get used to using electronic medium to communicate so you can capture the data. Set the stage early and start using electronic communications right away. In addition to the data capture or data input advantage of electronic communications, electronic data is easier to output or share with everyone. This is particularly true for transportation organizations where it would be next to impossible for the Fatigue Coach to get everyone into a conference room at the same time to share the initial fatigue message.

Thirdly, the order is important. Home life first, work second. Remember the old saying WII-FM (What’s In It For Me)? What would you rather do, something to benefit your organization or you personally? The best FRMS’s are ones that improve the lives of people working within the system. By pointing out the home life issue first, you are highlighting the fact that there will be personal benefits from the FRMS. At this point it will tweak everyone’s interest and get them to pay a little more attention to the Fatigue Coach’s message. Later, focussing on personal benefits will motivate people to contribute to the FRMS.

OK, back to the next step. This is where the Fatigue Coach asks for similar experiences and points out that things could be better for him or her. Fatigue is universal, everyone has felt it and most people find it unpleasant unless they are sitting in a comfy chair at the end of a long day with nothing to do except relax and then crawl into bed. This means everyone will have a story to tell. By pointing out that things could be better, the Fatigue Coach is getting people to start thinking about possibilities. The last part of the message should be an invitation for people to share their experiences anonymously along with a proclamation that the Fatigue Coach is setting a goal to improve both their home and work lives.

Remember the data input? We are starting it now. I suggest using an external service like Survey Monkey or because you want total anonymity. Internal data capture runs the risk of identifying the person inputing the information and losing their trust because you have not kept your word to keep the data confidential.  At this early stage, the mistake could be fatal for your FRMS. Here is a statement that can work for this step: “I know that I would feel better without the fatigue and I am wondering if you would also feel better. I am making improvements to both my home and work lives my personal goal. I would like to know what makes you feel fatigued both at home and at work so that we can explore how to improve things together. Please share your thoughts anonymously here:”.