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What influences and how to combat ATCOs' fatigue?

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

According to ICAO, aviation service providers and operational staff can use many different fatigue management methods to address the safety implications of fatigue. We'll get to those methods later in the article. For now, let's find out what effects shift work has on Air Traffic Controllers' fatigue. And how does that fatigue affect their everyday work?

Shifts' effects that lead to fatigue

A study focused on Air Traffic Controllers' fatigue levels presented two significant problems of shift work that cause fatigue.

The main worry with day shifts is the unbalanced work hours in the morning and afternoon. Typically, Air Traffic Controllers who work during the day are most energetic and vigilant. The unbalanced hours in the morning and afternoon can lead to exhaustion, especially with specific types of shifts.

The second problem is that night shifts are usually tied to people's circadian rhythms. The sleeping time and hours of Air Traffic Controllers are the most important factors influencing their fatigue levels. Studies suggest that Air Traffic Controllers who work night shifts are more likely to experience fatigue and sleeping problems than those who work during the day. This is because the body's natural circadian rhythm is disrupted when people work at night.

Based on the analysis findings, the good news is that consecutive work days and a high number of aircraft movements may not be risk factors for Air Traffic Controller fatigue.

How can fatigue lead to more problems for Air Traffic Controllers and ANSPs?

Fatigue leads to unfocused ATCOs and errors

Fatigue can be mental, visual, and physical. When feeling fatigued, it is crucial to identify the signs and symptoms unique to each type of fatigue.

According to a study, nearly two in 10 Air Traffic Controllers have made significant errors in the past year, and over half attribute the mistakes to fatigue. A third of the controllers said they perceived fatigue as a "high" or "extreme" safety risk.

The study's findings are troubling, to say the least. If Air Traffic Controllers regularly make mistakes due to fatigue, it could have serious consequences.

Even though more than 6 in 10 controllers confessed to having a lapse in attention while driving to or from their midnight shifts (which usually start around 10 pm and finish at 6 am), this means that a significant portion of controllers is still driving while sleepy—which could lead to accidents.

The job of an Air Traffic Controller requires a high level of alertness and focus. Fatigue can lead to errors and decreased performance. It is therefore important to balance work and social life to minimize fatigue risk.

There are some methods with good outcomes to prevent or diminish fatigue.

Methods to diminish fatigue

ANSPs can prevent Air Traffic Controllers' fatigue by regulating their work hours each day or week, providing breaks during long shifts, and ensuring ATCOs have enough time to rest and recover between shifts. These measures will create a healthy and sustainable work environment for their employees.

Furthermore, managing sleep deprivation for 24/7 shift work is another impactful method. You can read more about this topic in this article.

Another valuable method for preventing fatigue is providing information to Air Traffic Controllers to help them recognise the signs of fatigue.

Last but not least, automated rostering platforms that consider ATCOs' work hours and natural body clock are an effective form of managing fatigue.

Why is rostering automation a good practice for fatigue management?

Going back to rostering automation, why is it so helpful nowadays?

Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs) are easily fatigued because their job is fast-paced and demanding.

Automating the rostering process can help them get enough rest and recovery time and encourage quick shift changes to reduce disruptions. This can improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the scheduling process.

SkyRoster is a good platform to help you manage fatigue by creating clockwise or counterclockwise rotation patterns by defining a sequence of predefined shift types.

1. Roster planners are in charge of the rules that will be automatically checked and fulfilled, including fatigue management, worked time, and working position requirements, as well as banned working position cycles (EXE-BRK-EXE).

2. Managers can consider their employees' working preferences to help with fatigue management. By doing so, they can design work schedules that diminish the potential for employee fatigue.

3. Employees can request an off shift easily within the platform when they're feeling fatigued. This allows them to rest and recuperate and ensures they can perform at their best when they return to their regular shifts.

4. Shift swapping is an effective way to manage fatigue among Air Traffic Controllers. Rostering automation allows controllers to swap shifts with compatible colleagues while considering all planning constraints. This ensures ATCOs can get the rest they need while maintaining a safe and efficient operation.

5. To maintain a healthy distribution of workload and prevent fatigue among Air Traffic Controllers, managers can use the distribution rules offered by the platform to assign public holidays, weekends, and night shifts as fairly as possible. This will help to increase satisfaction among ATCOs and improve overall efficiency.

Schedule a call with us and see how we can help you with the process of automating your rosters.

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