PF Olsen crews work with University student to study workplace fatigue

Last year Chris Griffiths from Waikato University undertook fieldwork in PF Olsen’s harvesting and planting operations, investigating tools and methods for data capture of forestry workers. The focus for his thesis was on workplace fatigue, how to assess the impact of activity on performance and therefore judge impairment. To get the physiological data needed Chris chose to use Fitbit wristbands to measure step rate, calorific burn rate, and heart rate. To assess the possible impact of activity on performance a computer programme was used to measure "simple" and "choice" reaction times. For a simple reaction time, the participant pressed a key when they saw a prompt on the screen, and for choice reaction time the participant made a decision between four keys in relation to the prompt.

Some of the crews selected were working a considerable way from home which gave data on how travel time affects the crew. He also worked with crews close to home to get comparison data. The first part of the survey was conducted in the winter months.

The crew that Chris spent the most time with was Bay Yarding and it was because of their feedback that he spent an extra week with them in summer to assess temperature differences.

On a visit to Bay Yarding and with perfect timing, as it was a lunch shout day, we talked about their participation, in terms of how did it go, did it interrupt their work and would they do it again - they had only positive comments. They saw the value of their input, the wristbands were no bother and did not interrupt their work. They had no issue “helping someone who was doing something to help them”.

What really surprised the crew was just how many steps they did in a day. The fellers knew that they covered a lot of ground - the mean step rate for them was 20,000 in a day and that’s not in a straight line on a flat surface. The biggest surprise was to the logmakers and quality control workers - the mean step rate for them was 17,000 across easier ground. The amount of physical exertion was interesting to the crew, as was how and when their heart rate rose and fell. For example, it rose quite quickly when they became frustrated and when driving the loader as the trucks built up waiting to be loaded.

There was good discussion around fatigue, the day in the machine, job rotation, paperwork, the drive home and how Thursday afternoon is when tiredness sets in.

Worker impairment is a broad subject and with understanding and real data, we can continue working to control it.

Chris received first class honours for his degree. He is now working on a Doctorate and is welcome back in our operations to do more monitoring for study in the future. Both our contractors and ourselves have certainly gained helpful knowledge from his work and look forward to more in the future.