Integrating Fatigue Risk Management Into Your Safety Management System

Michael Doiron

Transport Canada describes a Safety Management Systems (SMS) as a program to:

  • Manage safety throughout an organization
  • Establish a business-like approach to safety
  • Develop a systematic, explicit and comprehensive process for managing risks
  • Assist in goal-setting, planning and measuring performance
Safety documents

One of the specific SMS risks that organizations must manage effectively are those activities associated with performance deterioration and unintended errors caused by sleep related fatigue.

We all suffer the effects and consequences of fatigue and we must do more to evaluate the contributing factors and implement strategies to help deal effectively with these risks. All organizations operating in safety critical environments (e.g., policing, firefighting, air traffic control, maintenance, aviation and medicine) need a formal and comprehensive Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) weaved integrally into the company SMS to deal effectively with these challenges.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) defines a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) as:

A data-driven means of continuously monitoring and managing fatigue-related safety risks, based upon scientific principles and knowledge as well as operational experience that aims to ensure relevant personnel are performing at adequate levels of alertness.

Here are some elements that will contribute to a multi-layered FRMS for organizations:

  • Implementing a company fatigue policy describing the SMS Accountable Executive’s commitment to protect all employees, contractors, service providers, clients, visitors, and the general public from fatigue-related risk
  • Developing a FRMS policy and procedures manual to provide employees with a description of position responsibilities and comprehensive directions concerning the handling of fatigue-related risk within the operational environment
  • Develop fatigue-proofing strategies to include controlled napping or rest periods, supervisory and co-worker monitoring and task rotation or re-allocation
  • Develop fatigue reporting protocols to assist front line supervisors in responding to reported fatigue related events and determine short term corrective action
  • Create an informed safety culture by providing specific fatigue training and on-going education tailored for each layer of the organization
  • On-going fatigue review and improvement process to evaluate absenteeism trends, assess employee feedback, incorporate lessons learned in recurrent training programs and evaluate financial gains/losses, employee morale, and frequency of errors or loss time due injuries

An effective FRMS should be viewed as a partnership between organizations and employees. Organizations must be able to identify the fatigue risks unique to their operation and develop mitigation plans to deal proactively with these operational threats. Build the FRMS using the guidelines published by various regulatory bodies, monitor fatigue related events occurring in the operational environment, incorporate lesson learned from your own operations and other operators, and monitor the effect of your fatigue management for improvements. The long term benefits will be there.

Michael Doiron is the President of Cirrus Aviation Safety Services.