There is an endless debate about fatigue in safety related workplace, some action has been taken and yet the battle among regulators, employers and union continues. WHY?
The abundance of research on the subject does not stop the headlines concerning the failure to get the regulations on this issue right. Witness:
· the recent lethal accident involving a drowsy truck driver in New Jersey
· the tragedy of the Colgan Air Buffalo crash and
· the below link↓ to a Washington Post article is an independent review of the FAA’s poor scheduling of air traffic controllers.
What is incredibly frustrating is that the FAA, partially in response to the Buffalo findings, completed an exhaustive rulemaking process which resulted in comprehensive, state-of-the-art regulations on pilot flight and duty time . That final rule continued the FAA’s long term effort to so refine the definitions of flight time and rest time, i.e.
· Varying flight and duty requirements based on what time the pilot’s day begins
· Flight duty period
· Flight time limits of eight or nine hours
· 10-hour minimum rest period
· New cumulative flight duty and flight time limits
These rules represent literally thousands of hours of work by FAA staff, airline management , union representatives and academic experts and still there were requests to further interpret these new criteria .
The new approach also no longer relies exclusively on legalistic rules. Its truly innovative aspects involves an innovative Fatigue Risk Management System, which obligated management and the flight crews to be aware of and act on signals of an individual’s ability to perform the pilot’s demanding tasks.
This lengthy review should show the degree to which the FAA has thought about and found answers to this vexing issue. How, then, is it possible that the FAA is not able to transfer the lessons of 2011 Flightcrew Member Duty and Rest Requirements to controllers.
In recognition of the need to regulate the Air Traffic Organization, it created the Air Traffic Safety Oversight Organization which, among other tasks, is supposed to participate “in operational review and analysis of information pertaining to the Air Traffic Organization employees, operations and programs.” It seems axiomatic that the lessons of pilot fatigue should apply to air traffic controllers even though their workplaces are not exactly the same, BUT NO SUCH ACTION HAS BEEN PROPOSED.
Which gets back to the question asked in the first paragraph, WHY?
It may be inexplicable, but there is a hint in the Washington Post article. The controllers union, NATCA, defended the practice of scheduling five eight-hour work shifts into four 24-hour periods. As stated in the article:
“The union said in a statement that NASA’s research showed that ‘with proper rest periods,’ the rattler ‘actually produced less periods of fatigue risk to the overall schedule.’”
Cramming maximizes the employees hours in a short period, which appears to be a more important union consideration than maximizing the safety of the operation. Maybe that is an answer to the question why!
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