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Human Factors: Fatigue
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Human Factors: Fatigue
Commercial airlines are responsible for the transportation of a large number of people. It is thus necessary to have adequate safety measures in place. The aviation authority in the nation ensures the security of airlines in several ways. These include mandating constant maintenance checks of planes, having trained security on board, advising customers on safety measures, and recruiting and maintaining qualified staff. The staff and customers in airlines form the human factors that can affect the safety of air travels. A specific area that has been of interest is the mental and physical wellbeing of pilots. Pilots have the responsibility of ensuring a safe trip for thousands of individuals (Bor et al., 2017). It is thus necessary to ensure that they are in a healthy mental state. Psychological issues and problems among pilots can pose significant threats to the safety of airlines. The paper discusses fatigue among pilots as a human factor affecting the safety of airlines and the solutions to address the problem.
Fatigue in Pilots
Fatigue refers to the state of being extremely tired. Pilots are at high risk of experiencing the stresses of air travel such as fatigue (FAA, n.d.).The condition goes beyond the normal tiredness to include unusual physical and mental strain. In addition, sleep may sometimes be ineffective as a means of relieving fatigue. Several kinds of fatigue may affect airline staff. For instance, pilots may be overworked occasionally. During such periods, they can experience temporary fatigue but have common remedies such as sleeping or taking longer breaks.
On the other hand, chronic fatigue lasts longer, is more severe, develops over time, and may not be relieved through sleep. Such fatigue also reduces concentration, energy, and motivation. Furthermore, chronic fatigue affects the emotional, physical, and psychological health of the pilots. Fatigue is thus a severe health concern as opposed to the normal tiredness.
The Symptoms of Fatigue
Several signs can act as indicators for fatigue among pilots. Airline management must thus be vigilant to identify these symptoms and take action. Common indicators include short-term memory problems and a poor concentration (Transportation Safety Board of Canada, n.d.). A pilot with fatigue also feels chronic tiredness and sleepiness. In addition, fatigue may manifest as headaches, dizziness, loss of appetite, and having a blurry vision. Other symptoms are aching muscles, having weak muscles, slow reflexes, high irritability, and loss of appetite. Impaired hand to eye coordination, hallucinations, and poor judgments are also symptoms of fatigue in a pilot.
The Causes of Fatigue among Pilots
Fatigue in a pilot may be due to an underlying health condition. Common diseases that result in chronic or acute fatigue include cancer, kidney diseases, infections, anemia, and liver failure. Some kinds of medications can also result in fatigue. Such treatments include chemotherapy, heart drugs, painkillers, and radiation therapy. Diseases and conditions such as traumatic injury to the brain, heart diseases, anxiety disorders, concussion, and depression can also be a cause for chronic or acute fatigue in pilots.
Lifestyle Causes of Fatigue
People have different life patterns and habits. Some pilots may be engaging in practices that gradually lead to fatigue. Lack of sleep is a common cause of fatigue. A pilot may decide to work longer and sleep for hours in a bid to gain more overtime payments. Such strategies will eventually lead to fatigue. The use of alcohol and drugs may also be a cause of fatigue. These substances have the ability to slow down nervous systems and disrupt normal sleeping patterns. Pilots who live sedentary lifestyles and do not engage in regular exercises can also develop fatigue. Several benefits of exercising lower the chance of fatigue. These include the reduction of stress, enhancing sleep, improving fitness, and boosting energy levels. Too much sleep can also be a cause of fatigue. Excessive sleep results in daytime drowsiness and eventually leads to fatigue. Other lifestyle causes of fatigue include many commitments and poor diets.
Causes of Pilot Fatigue in the Workplace
The working environment can also be a factor leading to fatigue among pilots. One critical condition that leads to fatigue is employment stress. Common causes of such stress include dissatisfaction with the job, endless conflicts, lack of job security, and heavy workloads. Burnout is also a predisposing factor of fatigue for pilots. Some of them may put too much effort into their jobs and neglect other critical areas such as family, personal interests, and social life. Also, working in shifts is a major cause of fatigue. The human brain has a part known as the circadian clock that sets the body to sleep at night and regulates the biological and physical functions (Federal Aviation Administration, n.d.). An interruption of the biological clock through shifts increases the risks of fatigue. Several poor working practices can also lead to fatigue. Examples of such factors and habits include irregular working hours, boredom, over-concentration on a repetitive task, and working alone.
The Psychological Causes of Fatigue among Pilots
Mental health factors are among the most common causes of fatigue among pilots. Examples of such conditions are anxiety and depression. Continuous anxiousness drains the body of energy, therefore, leading to the development of fatigue. Grief among pilots can also result in fatigue. Losing close friends or loved ones relates to many emotions that put the body into overdrive and promote fatigue. Common emotions that occur because of grief include despair, shock, loneliness, guilt, and depression.
The Effects of Fatigue on Pilots
Fatigue has numerous effects on pilots. Unfortunately, these impacts directly reduce the effectiveness of the pilots and pose a significant danger to aviation safety. A common effect of fatigue is impaired judgment. When under fatigue, pilots have a high likelihood of making wrong or erroneous decisions (CAA, 2002). The work of a pilot involves critical thinking and making the best judgments to ensure a safe and smooth flight. Poor decision-making, therefore, compromises the safety of airlines and passengers.
Fatigue can also promote suicidal thoughts among pilots. There have been several cases of accidents due to suicide by pilots. An example is the crash of a Germanwings plane. Fatigue thus presents serious threats that may not be visible until there is an error or emergency (Chapter 2, n.d.). Contemplation of suicide among a pilot can be a grave threat to the security of air travel.
Lack of concentration is also an effect of fatigue. When pilots are fatigued, they are unable to focus on instructions and critical flight details. In addition, they cannot identify malfunctions and situations that need critical decision-making. The awareness of the situation, therefore, reduces in the presence of physical stressors such as fatigue (Endsley, 1999). Piloting is an occupation that requires a sober and attentive mind. Any lack of concentration puts the lives of passengers in danger.
Solutions and Suggestions to Deal with Fatigue
Fatigue in pilots is a critical concern in airlines. Air travel operators should thus implement extensive initiatives to ensure the mental health of their pilots. Several solutions can be effective in reducing and identifying the early signs of fatigue.
First, there should be a regular checkup of pilots. Certain medical conditions can cause fatigue. These include heart diseases and cancer. Airlines should, therefore, conduct checks to identify any conditions that can lead to fatigue and thus compromise the safety of passengers. In addition, it is necessary to ensure pilots have normal and regular work schedules. Overworking them can be a risk factor leading to fatigue. Also, irregular schedules interfere with the personal and family life of pilots. Such schedules can lead to stress, anxiety, and therefore promote fatigue.
Airlines should also offer effective and competitive compensation packages to pilots. Financial strain can be a major cause of depression, stress, and anxiety. These mental pressures are significant indicators of fatigue. Also, lower compensations can lead pilots into working extra hours for higher pay. Less rest and overworking is an unhealthy habit that eventually results in fatigue. When pilots receive competitive salaries, they are able to have financial freedom and avoid stress. They will thus be less likely to develop fatigue.
Creating awareness and educating pilots is also essential. The management of airlines should make their pilots understand the dangers of fatigue on their health and occupation. In addition, awareness should include strategies for avoiding fatigue. There should also be constant counseling of pilots. The work of a pilot is an interesting one but having numerous challenges. Counseling can be effective in teaching them how to manage the bottlenecks of the profession and live healthy lives. An airline should also ensure that it has effective leadership. Such management can form better relationships with pilots, ensure clear communication, and reduce workplace stress.
In conclusion, fatigue is a serious concern among pilots. It refers to the state of being extremely tired. Several factors can cause fatigue including stress at the workplace, medical causes, lifestyle, and psychological issues. The effects of fatigue on airlines include reduced concentration among pilots, poor decision-making, and having suicidal thoughts. Fatigue is thus a serious issue that airlines should address.
Bor, R., Droogj, A., Albuquerque, C., Dickens, P., Eriksen, C., Harris, P., Oakes, M., Mackenzie, S., Farndon, R.S. (2017). Aviation and aerospace psychology: Pilot mental health and wellbeing. The British Psychological Society. Retrieved from
CAA, U. (2002). CAP 719/Fundamental Human Factors Concepts. Civil Aviation Authority.
Chapter 2. (n.d.). Aeronautic Decision Making. Federal Aviation Administration.
Endsley, M. R. (1999). Situation awareness in aviation systems. Handbook of Aviation Human Factors, 257-276. Retrieved from http://publicapps.caa.co.uk/docs/33/CAP719.PDF
FAA. (n.d.). Introduction to Aviation Psychology. Federal Administration Authority.
Federal Aviation Administration (n.d.). Circadian Rhythm Disruption and Flying. FAA.
Transportation Safety Board of Canada. (n.d.). Effects of Fatigue on Human Performance – Why the TSB Investigates for Fatigue in Every Occurrence. The Government of Canada. Retrieved from http://www.bst-tsb.gc.ca/eng/medias-media/blogue-blog/2015/20150312.htm
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