Human workforces have been at the core of our purpose at Integrated Safety Support for the past 15 years. We were founded to translate the complex scientific knowledge of occupational alertness and fatigue management into practical solutions for the workplace.
Over the past few months, we’ve been on a bit of a listening tour. We’ve speaking with our long-term clients, a gaggle of trusted experts and our wonderful team, and we decided it was time for an evolution.
Much of the workforce is fully distributed, Zoom fatigue is part of our vernacular, and some industries are dealing with more pressure than ever before. We spent the summer taking stock of the ways in which workplaces have changed.
But now, we’re ready to hit the ground running. We think the industry is ready for a little positive disruption… and that’s why we’re so excited to formally announce our new product offering.
We’ve distilled our experience working successfully in almost every industry across the globe into a suite of systematic online training resources and smartphone apps.
We listened, and that’s why we’re launching the Eclipse Subscription Service. It drives higher performance by developing a deeper understanding of healthy sleep, mental health, productivity and safety.
The Eclipse Subscription Service can also deliver a measurable impact to the bottom line for businesses, lowering absenteeism, increasing staff retention and positively impacting productivity.
Integrated Safety Support is reshaping the fatigue management and operational alertness industry by taking the conversation beyond the causes and impacts of fatigue and providing real world solutions that give participants the opportunity to thrive in their workplace.
Please contact us today to find out more about how the Eclipse Subscription Service could help your team.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting disruptions to the way we conceptualise work has brought questions around the ‘future of work’ to the forefront for many of us. Will the women who quit their jobs to home school their kids re-enter the workforce? Is the workplace flexibility that many of us have enjoyed here to stay? Is work-life balance as a concept even relevant anymore?
I came across a new research paper on the ergonomics and human factors contributions to date to the field of research inquiry known as the ‘future of work’, so I thought it would be good to break down what the researchers found.
1. The paper lists the mega trends shaping the future landscape of work as incorporating: technological advances, including AI and automation, co-bots and collaboration and ICT developments; labour market demand, including the gig economy, insecure work and skill requirements; labour market supply, including skills shortages and demographic changes; and environmental change, including climate change and resource scarcity.
2. The impact on work of technological advancements is not limited to concerns around automation.
Indeed, the focus of the broader research literature in this field is on the more general application of new technologies and how they are changing the way we work, where we work, and how much work we do. This research tends to focus on the wellbeing issues arising from an ‘always on’ culture and the growth of flexibility and particularly distributed working, the gig economy and casualisation.
3. Jobs and workers are increasing in their variety and that workers will be expected to expand their job skills.
There is much emphasis in future of work discourses and in the education sector on the need for workers to continually update and expand their skills in order to be agile in the changing world of work, and to expect multiple careers rather than working within a single sector as was usual in the past.
4. The populations of Western countries are ageing while workforces have increasing numbers of older workers, and this has become a major trend impacting economies and the workplace.
Workforce ageing is a huge challenge for those involved in the ergonomics and human factors space to ensure work systems and products and services are fit for the older population, accounting for the changing capabilities, limitations and aspirations of older people.
5. Flexible work arrangements are here to stay.
Working from home has many apparent benefits, including potential productivity increases, enhanced wellbeing, providing better balance between work and non-work time, giving greater opportunity for women and those with care responsibilities to engage in paid work, enhancing autonomy and satisfaction with work, reduced time spent commuting, organisational resilience and the environmental and social benefits of reducing fossil fuel omissions and inner-city congestion. However, flexible working also brings potential challenges, including an increased likelihood of social isolation and work family conflict where such arrangements are not well scheduled and managed. Indeed, remote working in particular has been associated with concerns around the blurring of spatial and temporal boundaries between work and non-work. These concerns have, of course, come under increasing public attention during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can read the research paper here.
A story from last year over staff fatigue at Caledonian Sleeper (a Scottish long-haul passenger train line), highlighted to us the need to go beyond minimum compliance when it comes to managing operational risks, delivering good customer service, and looking after staff.
A report by Dr Paul Jackson concluded that Caledonian complied with health and safety laws but its “approach to fatigue management could be improved” and recommended a “change in culture”.
ISS CEO Dr Adam Fletcher emphasised that this story reiterated his belief that rules and regulations can only do so much. “Being compliant with laws is critical and necessary, but these sorts of situations reinforce that you’ve got to go beyond compliance to actually properly identify and manage risks,” he said.
The report was commissioned after members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) to staged multiple 48-hour walkouts, which forced the cancellation of some services. Staff voted to take action after operator Serco refused to allow them to use spare cabins for rest breaks during shifts which can last more than 16 hours.
The report said staff breaks should be extended beyond one hour on longer routes, rest areas improved and the working of multiple nights on end be reduced.
Dr Jackson highlighted faults with the new Sleeper fleet as a major cause of extra staff stress, especially when they had to find alternative cabins for arriving passengers at short notice. "It was clear that the extra workload arising from factors outside crews’ control causes unnecessary stress. A poor start to a long night duty,” he said.
“The other point here is that for service staff, we actually want them to give good service, we actually want the customers to be happy – and one of the things we know is very sensitive to sleep loss is mood. So, if it’s really important to have high quality customer experiences, then it’s really important to go beyond the minimum compliance of the laws. If you want someone to be really fresh, alert, friendly, sensitive to people’s needs, then they’re going to need proper rest,” Adam says.
The union said: “It shows fatigue has been an issue for years but has been allowed to fester, staff are reluctant to report fatigue for fear of victimisation, and train faults are rife, which adds to the stress.
Caledonian Sleeper managing director Ryan Flaherty said: “When some of our employees raised concerns about fatigue, we brought in an independent specialist to conduct a risk assessment on our services. His report clearly concludes that not only is Caledonian Sleeper operating within all regulations."
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, “being compliant with laws does not make something safe,” Adam says.
You can find out more about this story here.
One term that’s become a hot button issue over the last year (and really over the last decade) is burnout. We’re not experts in burnout at ISS – but we do know how important it is to open up conversations and help people be more informed on the topic. We also know that many of the contributing factors to burnout overlap with contributing factors to fatigue.
Last year the World Health Organisation (WHO) reclassified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon”. It defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. The WHO characterises burnout by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.
Messed up sleep is a significant contributor to burnout, just like time of day and shift work can be contributors to burnout. We know that the 24-hour day and the circadian system can have a big effect on how easily you get fatigued or burnt out, “there’s a big extra challenge if you’re working particularly at times when you might normally sleep,” ISS CEO Dr Adam Fletcher says.
Burnout is essentially a stage we get to when we’re experiencing prolonged periods of chronic stress, just like fatigue is a stage we reach when we’re experiencing chronic lack of sleep. But somewhat unlike sleep, stress is extremely personal, sensitive, and subjective, “I can have the same stresses on different days and have very different responses,” Adam explains.
We often think of burnout as an individual problem, solvable with simple-fix techniques like “learning to say no”, more yoga, better breathing, practicing resilience. Yet, evidence is mounting that personal, band-aid solutions are not enough to combat an epic and rapidly evolving workplace phenomenon. Not only is it about personal mental health, but about workplace demands. Adam pointed out that man of the work demands that contribute to fatigue can also contribute to burnout. “Long hours of work, unreasonable demands of productivity, workload that’s consistently too high because of in adequate resources or the wrong mix of resources, these can all add up to someone that is either fatigued, burnt out, or both,” he says.
Again, we’re not experts on burnout at ISS, but because it is such a personal experience with personal contributing factors, it really warrants having an approach that isn’t off the shelf or generic. There’s a strong argument for a scenario where you really need to personalise the care and support, because the same variables and demands for different people, or even the same people on different days, can have different results.
Working from home wasn't supposed to be a thing that most people did for more than a few weeks. It was just a temporary situation in response to what most people thought would be a short-term circumstance. Now, almost a year later, working from home has become a new normal for a lot of people.
One of the biggest problems is that the boundary between work and everything else in our lives has blurred considerably, now that we do almost all of it in the same space. People who used to commute for 20 or 30 minutes (or in many cases even longer) now walk from the bedroom to the kitchen, where they set up their laptop on the dining table.
As a result, Microsoft's latest Work Trend Report shows that people are spending, on average, 25 percent more time working than they were pre-pandemic. That might sound like people are being more productive, but more time spent working isn't the same thing as productivity. But, it's not that people are necessarily more productive. Instead, there are troubling signs that many employees are suffering from burnout.
Microsoft's solution to this sort of burnout is to bring back the commute, at least virtually. It's about as simple as it gets, but it could be a total game-changer for your team.
That may not seem like a big deal, but it turns out that it makes a very real difference. Our brains use that time to think, prepare, and to organise our thoughts and our list of tasks. Especially on the way home: Your commute provides a boundary that signals you're leaving work, giving you permission to leave it behind.
For example, you might set aside 20 minutes at the beginning of your day, not to work, but to think through the things you need to accomplish. You might think about the conversations you need to have, or you might listen to music or a podcast – any of the things you used to do on your way to work to prepare for your day. The same is true at the end of the day.
The company is also adding prompts for things you can do during your virtual commute, including an interesting partnership with Headspace, the meditation app. Microsoft's report suggests that 30 days of using meditation can reduce stress by 32 percent, and that just four sessions reduced burnout in frontline workers by 14 percent.
First off, I think it’s important that we acknowledge that this is a little bit absurd. ISS CEO Dr Adam Fletcher noted that this can be looped into the group of concepts invented because of the pandemic, like Zoom fatigue or maskne (mask related acne). “One of the things that was really interesting out of this for me, was just the fact that some new concepts have literally been invented because of COVID-19. If at the start of this year, someone had said, for people that work from home, you can have a virtual commute on your computer, I think mostly people would laugh,” he says.
Nevertheless, we can sing the virtual commute’s praises for recognising the value of reflection and thinking at the start of the day, and the unpacking and switching out of work-mode at the end of the day. “It’s potentially a tool that helps create really healthy boundaries, even though there’s not physical boundaries, especially for people that don’t have a dedicated office and are trying to work from a room that serves at least one other function,” Adam says.
Despite this, I think we’ve all learned the importance of flexibility over the last year when it comes to work. Just as it could be a helpful tool to avoid burnout for some, Adam notes that it could become a “distraction or added stress for others with a different set of life conditions.” It’s crucial that these sorts of initiatives are available to employees, but not mandated.
You can read more about Microsoft's burnout strategy here.
After more than a century with an image problem, napping is getting a rebrand, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
Not only have naps been historically associated with weakness, but they’ve also been viewed as indulgent or lazy — only for those who had the extra time to devote to sleep. So when the Army released the latest version of their Holistic Health and Fitness manual, the inclusion of the term “strategic and aggressive napping” stood out.
For ISS CEO Dr Adam Fletcher, this messaging represents a significant cultural shift, “when you see a big organisation that is very mission-focused, and in many ways quite traditional and hierarchical – when you actually get them looking at the science, they can recognise that the data doesn’t lie when it comes to naps,” he says.
A section of the updated manual that addresses improving and sustaining readiness says the following about naps:
When regular nighttime sleep is not possible due to mission requirements, Soldiers can use short, infrequent naps to restore wakefulness and promote performance. When routinely available sleep time is difficult to predict, Soldiers might take the longest nap possible as frequently as time is available.
“Essentially, if it fits in, do it. If you stay safe by napping, do it. If you’re sleep is getting messed up because of operating environments and you can use a nap beforehand, after, or safely in the middle of, that’s all good,” Adam explains.
Napping is also recommended to promote alertness:
Although the circadian rhythm of alertness generally promotes a 24-hour cycle of daytime wakefulness and nighttime sleep, there is also a temporary afternoon “dip” in alertness. This dip becomes especially noticeable in individuals who have a significant sleep debt (for example, not regularly obtaining adequate sleep). For those able to take advantage of it, the afternoon dip provides an opportunity for obtaining good quality daytime sleep to help pay down any existing sleep debt. Soldiers can generally take these naps without significantly disrupting the circadian rhythm of alertness — provided that the naps are not so long or so frequent that they begin to impair the ability to initiate sleep at night.
“I think in practical terms, people in the military and other similar operating environments (i.e., on-call and emergency workers) have known for a very long time that naps can be awesome! They can be a total gamechanger, and I think that people at the front-line people are very aware of the value, the power, and the minute-for-minute bang for your buck when it comes to naps,” Adam says.
From a messaging point of view that is a cultural shift, because a lot of the culture historically has been very macho. “I don’t need to sleep; I’m just going to power through and get it done”. This is essentially saying – you can be more effective, more powerful and more safe by using napping as a tool.
You can read more about the napping rebrand here.
A bizarre story came across our desk recently, and it actually sparked an interesting conversation about workplace napping.
Three railroad employees were suspended without pay for converting a room underneath Grand Central Terminal in New York City into their own personal 'man cave.'
The room was furnished with a wall-mounted TV connected to a streaming device, a futon couch, refrigerator, air mattress, and microwave, according to a report released Thursday by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Inspector Carolyn Pokorny.
"The risks associated with employees hiding in that room with the door locked create a variety of hazards including the inability of rescue personnel to quickly access the room,” Carolyn noted.
While they may have thought they were doing something innovative and fun, clearly it was illegal and potentially dangerous. It’s possible that one of their motivating forces for setting up this room was actually to have naps during, just before or just after work.
ISS CEO Dr Adam Fletcher told me that this is more common than you might think, “there are many organisations that I’ve been to over the years where I’ve been told stories or shown nap areas that were unsanctioned and arguably quite dangerous,” he says.
We would always be an advocate, where it’s appropriate, of having open discussions about if and when workplace napping is acceptable. And if it is under certain circumstances acceptable, then what are the rules?
Adam says that the key here is to have open discussions about safe napping and then to follow it up with a procedure about when, where, and how it could be appropriate.
“People shouldn’t be given carte blanche opportunity to sleep at work – they need to be coming to work ready to do the duty they’ve been rostered for – but in certain circumstances, it’s sensible to let people get their head down,” he says.
We’re an advocate for napping, but we’ll also be the first people to acknowledge that it’s done in a really dumb way by a lot of people, and this is a perfect example of that. Staff definitely shouldn’t be coming to work assuming that they’ll be able to nap, they should be coming fit for work or not come to work. But, if there are ways for napping to be done safely, there should be clear rules and procedures about it.
You can read more about the story here.
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Do you want to better manage your productivity and alertness levels? Unsure of where to start?
PeakAlert is your AI-powered personal alertness assistant in an app. PeakAlert tracks and predicts your alertness, performance, sleep and other crucial factors.
PeakAlert technology has been developed and validated by the US Department of Defense.
Our new updates include:
Do you have a big task or long drive ahead? Unsure whether you’re safe to complete the task right now?
The FatigueSafe App is a one-minute fatigue self-assessment tool that helps users quickly evaluate their current personal fatigue levels and create user awareness. This is achieved through a quick test where the user is asked questions regarding their:
The development of FatigueSafe was informed by the science and medicine of personal fatigue management and developed in conjunction with real-world industry partners. It is designed to improve your safety, performance and ultimately, the quality of your life.
Our new updates include:
Truck drivers have been making their voice heard in the fatigue law debate in the midst of the Heavy Vehicle National Law revamp. More than 240 truckies have responded to a survey by the Australian Trucking Association around proposed changes to the fatigue laws.
In one survey section, they asked for input on a proposed rule for fatigue management based on drivers, not vehicles.
“Just like in WA, different fatigue rules could apply to higher fatigue risk drivers, including truck drivers who work more than 60 hours a week, more than once a week for 10+ hours, or more than once a week between midnight and 5 am.”
“truck drivers and operators would have a responsibility to comply or be able to show that they are not higher fatigue risk drivers.”
Some 55% of respondents agreed with this proposal.
“Driver fatigue should be up to the driver to manage. After all, we are meant to be professional drivers but we aren’t allowed to manage anything because the log book controls us and any load managers only ask what does your book say. It’s never oh no worries you have a rest break because you feel buggered and get it in safely,” one driver noted.
I spoke to ISS CEO Dr Adam Fletcher about his thoughts on the issue:
I’ve been advocating for this for a decade. I’m very pleased to see the work-rest flexibility inclusions to the latest round of legislation.
You’ve got to create more provision for the driver, they’re actually the one in the hot seat. If they have an experience that they’re about to potentially have a microsleep, don’t you want them to not be under pressure to keep pushing? Don’t you want to create the capacity for them to be a professional and call it and find somewhere safe to pull over? You don’t want them to have the feeling that if they stop that it will mess up their regulated break in 30 minutes.
I think the key point here is, it’s very positive that there’s finally more of a focus on the essential system layer called “drivers’ professional judgement”. It’s a positive shift that drivers’ professional judgement is given a better voice than in the past. There’s still a need to balance the person with the process, which is hard, but there should definitely be not only power given to drivers to self-manage because they’re adults and should be given that right, but companies need to provide for buffers in their scheduling to permit flexibility to be available without creating new pressure on the driver. If the company just does a Google Maps evaluation of how long a trip is going to take and don’t add any buffers for drivers to have up their sleep, then even with the discussion around drivers having more of a voice, they may still feel pressure just to push on.
Companies really have to account for contingencies and buffers for driver discretion, traffic changes, weather delays, minor maintenance issues etc.
It’s a very positive development, but there’s still a lot for companies to do to make it culturally and practically available for drivers to speak up.