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Basic health – Fatigue Management

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a first aid box

When authorising any operation, the Chief Remote Pilot must ensure the potential for fatigue is minimised. This includes consideration of travel time to a location, the complexity and duration of an operation, the time of day, and other environmental conditions that can impact on the performance of a person working safely.

It is evident that fatigue can develop from a variety of sources. The important issue is not so much what causes fatigue but rather the negative impact fatigue has on a person’s ability to perform tasks. A long day of mental concentration such as studying for an exam or writing a detailed report can be as fatiguing as manual labour.

drone user being trained

Several studies have demonstrated that fatigue can significantly impair a person’s ability to carry out tasks that require sustained concentration, complex thinking, and even manual dexterity.

The effects of fatigue can be made worse by inadequate fluids and food, by exposure to harsh environments, prolonged or stressful mental work, or arduous physical work. This is especially so if we are not used to the type of work we are undertaking or are unwell or lacking fitness.

Causes of fatigue

Fatigue is normally the product of one or more of the following:

  • emotional strain;
  • mental workload;
  • strenuous or sustained physical exertion;
  • inadequate food and fluid intake;
  • adverse environmental conditions, such as extremes of temperature, low light levels, * * * vibration and confined spaces;
  • periods of monotony or boring activities; and
  • disrupted and lost sleep.

Alcohol use and smoking

Drinking alcohol can lead to increased sleepiness and reduced alertness, even after the alcohol is no longer detectable. This effect is commonly known as a hangover. Alcohol intoxication significantly impairs performance, as previously mentioned.

Intoxication tends to lead to overly optimistic assessments of ability, which in turn, can lead to error and performance failures. The costs associated with alcohol abuse in the workplace include:

  • increased number of accidents causing injury;
  • increased absenteeism or lateness;
  • reduced productivity;
  • frequent stoppages;
  • lower quality work; and
  • equipment damage.

The persistent effects of alcohol

The alcohol-related reduction in performance after alcohol has left the body is known as ‘post-alcohol impairment.’

Pilot performance can be measurably impaired for at least 8 to 14 hours after last alcohol drink. These performance deficits are apparent across a range of abilities, and include slowed reaction time, lowered vigilance, difficulties processing radio communications, disruptions to the formation of new memories, and impaired judgement in operating the RPA.

Drug use, including prescription and over the counter medications

Prescription drugs

Some prescription drugs can affect your ability to drive or operate heavy machinery. They may also interact with existing fatigue levels and other drugs (including alcohol), further affecting your performance.

If you take prescription medication, and work in safety-sensitive roles, you should:

  • ask your doctor about possible interactions with other drugs;
  • ask your doctor about the drug’s effects on performance, such as your ability to drive, fly, and operate machinery and technical equipment;
  • tell your supervisor what you are taking so they are aware of your situation (depending on the policies and regulations in your workplace); and
  • remember that anaesthetics are prescription drugs that can show a positive result on a screening test – inform your supervisor if you have had an anaesthetic recently.

Over the counter drugs

Some over-the-counter drugs used for pain relief or colds and flu may increase drowsiness and fatigue-related symptoms. Again, always carefully check the advice labels/directions for use. If you are unsure about the side effects of the drug, talk to your pharmacist.

Emotions, including anger, anxiety, depression and fear

Emotions can affect your decision making processes. When these emotions revolve around anger, anxiety, depression and fear you are at particular risk of making bad decisions. It can take a level of self-reflection to recognise when these risk factors are present but they should not be ignored. As always, it is imperative that you follow your workplace procedures in relation to these matters and notify the person you are meant to notify. It is not ok to increase the risk to others because of your own emotions.

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Drone Safety for Managers (UK)

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