Fatigue in Aviation Professionals

In this article we are going to cover the subject of fatigue in aviation. After the definition we will continue with the causes of fatigue, contributory factors, signs of fatigue and solutions.

Fatigue is defined as “a condition characterized by a lessened capacity for work and reduced efficiency of accomplishment, usually accompanied by a feeling of weariness and tiredness”. Moreover, we may divide fatigue into two subcategories: mental fatigue and physical fatigue. 

Physical fatigue is defined as “the inability to exert force with one’s muscles to the degree that would be expected”.

Mental fatigue may include sleepiness and it concerns a general decrease of attention and ability to perform complex, or even quite simple tasks with customary efficiency.

After defining the terms let’s continue with the possible causes of fatigue. Like building the definition listing the causes of fatigue is hard too.

Causes of Fatigue

There are many reasons which may cause fatigue and we may count many directly and indirectly related reasons. there are many factors ranging from environmental subjects to family life or from working environment to physical activity level. It is a fact that a happy and satisfactory family life is a great source of motivation which makes the individual more resistant to fatigue. Or vice versa a problematic family life is itself is a source of fatigue. In addition, we can count that regular physical exercises which are properly designed for the individual have lots of benefits while an unhealthy lifestyle is a catalyzer of fatigue.

Let’s focus on working environment.

As we all know aviation is a sleepless industry and many professionals work on shift operations and that means sometimes work at night shifts. That is a major factor on fatigue. Circadian rhythm is highly effected on these professionals and that is a serious issue which leads to fatigue.

Another subject is workload. For many reasons like unexpected overflowing periods or emergency situations, workload on professionals may increase and this may cause fatigue. On the other hand, emotional dissatisfaction and stress on both working environment (lack of career opportunities, conflicts with coworkers, supervisors, managers…) and daily life may lead to fatigue.

The noise, airlessness, temperature, comfort are all physical condition variables that affect the quality of working environment and the poor design/management of these factors may cause fatigue.

We may add lack of assisting tools as a factor of fatigue. It is possible to use lots of tools to assist and help for the professionals. For example, an A-SMGCS (Advanced Surface Movement Guidance and Control System) is a useful tool for ATC on ground operations. Moreover, before strip printers ATCOs were used to write down all the flight plan information manually.

As you see there are various reasons and all of them are crucial. Now let’s continue with the signs of fatigue.

Signs of Fatigue

Let’s start with physical signs of fatigue on a professional. Fatigue may cause lots of symptoms and some of them are easy to detect. There are some physical signs that help as good indicators of an individual’s mood. A humped posture, slowed reflexes and responses, yawning, bleary eyes, stoop shoulders even a reluctant handshake may be signs of fatigue.

On the other hand, there are some other signs that we may call mental to detect fatigue on a professional. The change in decision making style or working style may be a sign of fatigue. For example, acting and deciding without consulting and if this points to a difference in the professional’s working style or tend to make risky decisions unlike his/her general attitude. Increase in general aggression, loss or weak situational awareness, increase in poor decisions and faults are all can be signs of fatigue.

Against Fatigue

Finally let’s have a look at what can be done against fatigue.

First of all, and I think the major precaution must be taken against is to build a healthy lifestyle. Although this advice can be for anyone, I think the aviation professionals must pay attention more. Building a healthy life style includes healthy nutrition and an individual diet with the help of a doctor. Another factor is sleeping. A good, effective and sufficient sleep is vital for restoring the needed energy. Sleeping periods may be irregular for a professional with on shift work. But it is possible to minimize the negative effects with the help of a professional. Physical exercise is another major factor for a healthy lifestyle. It’s known that regular and proper exercise will build a healthier cardiovascular system and muscular system by regulating the blood stream.

I must pinpoint that every individual may has unique needs that must be taken into consideration by consulting with related professionals (Doctor, nutrition, physician, trainer…) before taking any action.

Let’s look from another side. Employers and responsible professionals have many possible options to prevent and detect fatigue. The vision of providing optimum working conditions must be built. Some examples of this are:

These are some possible valuable solutions. We may add more and I want to point that happy working environment is also a major factor which worth working on it.

Finally, fatigue is a major subject on aviation and it needs a continuous attention to overcome. By building the awareness and vision of human centered management as the first step, it is possible to minimize the fatigue and manage it effectively.


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