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Fatigue Science

To quote WorkSafe NZ “…To work safely, workers should be physically and mentally alert. This means that fatigue is a potential risk. Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) and workers have a responsibility to manage fatigue at work.”

See: http://www.worksafe.govt.nz/worksafe/information-guidance/all-guidance-items/fatigue-quick-guide

In the book, “Fatigue as a Window to the Brain”, fatigue is likened to pain in that “it remains a private experience.” This is quite true – one person will find 40 hours of work is enough and another will thrive on 60 hours or more.  Fatigue is not something that can be managed with a ‘one size fits all’ management approach, for example by simply mandating a maximum number of hours of work in a week.

In recent times, the forest industry has come under scrutiny over its management of safety. Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said the government needed to address why safety standards were still not being met.  He said the approved code of practice for safety and health in the industry had never been fit for purpose. "It needs to be updated, made sense of, more practical and needs to deal with the issue of fatigue – it doesn't."

See: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/338149/five-forestry-deaths-this-year-spurs-new-safety-call

Fatigue is not only an issue for the forest industry. Indeed, it could well be described as an outcome of modern day life, therefore more than simply related to any industry of work. While true that the forest industry cannot do much about the pace and stresses of modern life the industry is actively looking at new tools and approaches to better care for our workforce.

As we grapple with the management controls needed to mitigate fatigue in our forestry workplaces, PF Olsen Ltd like other forest companies is working diligently to both understand the nature of fatigue and to implement learning and tools better manage the effects of fatigue.

When examining the issue that fatigue presents a good start point is the work itself. On any given forestry worksite, whether harvesting, silviculture, distribution or road engineering there are high risk jobs under way. This means our workers are completing tasks that demand precise levels of skill and accuracy, especially when people are working alongside one another or with critical risks.

In our Wood Matters April 2016 edition, readers were introduced to Chris Griffiths from Waikato University. Chris had been engaged in a fatigue management study involving some of our crews, mainly Bay Yarding Ltd. This study has been underway for a couple of years and there have already been some very interesting and insightful learning.

Chris is back in our operations administering a trial of an established fatigue monitoring programme provided by Canadian company Fatigue Science – see https://www.fatiguescience.com/

Fatigue Science has developed a wearable technology (known as the Readiband) that measures sleep and uses the data gathered to predict when the wearer will enter a ‘fatigue zone’. In other words, the technology would indicate the point when a worker would have a level of fatigue that is judged to be too high for the task they are undertaking. It would flag that time well in advance, thereby enabling suitable management interventions.

The great thing about the system is that it is personalised to the wearer and can only be implemented after a baseline of data has been collected from that individual.

For the next three months eighteen to twenty PF Olsen people will wear the Readibands in this trial, including truck drivers, loader operators, tree fellers, and breaker-outs and each will contribute data to inform the algorithm.

Participants have volunteered to help with this study and PF Olsen is grateful for their contribution. This is a collective process that will undoubtedly benefit not only the PF Olsen operations but also the wider forest industry. We are very excited about the trial, and indeed the work that Chris Griffiths has underway and will keep you up to date with progress in future Wood Matters.