News

Prospect spotlight on fatigue in offshore wind

1 December 2020

Prospect held a webinar in October looking at the critical issue of fatigue in the energy sector featuring industry experts, academics and some of our members talking about their experiences on the frontline.

Introducing the webinar, Chris Warburton, Prospect’s health and safety officer, said, “It’s become clear that in recent years fatigue has become one of the pressing health and safety issues facing workers in the energy sector.

“A survey of prospect members in the energy sector asked about a range of issues including health and safety, skills, stress and fatigue. One in three members told us that they felt too fatigued to work safely and a further third said that wouldn’t be comfortable telling their employer about this.”

One of the webinar’s speakers was Dr Fiona Earle, an occupational psychologist and a director of the University of Hull’s Centre of Human Factors, who talked about her recent work on managing fatigue in offshore wind.

“I’ve been interested in the ways that fatigue affects people,” said Dr Earle.

“As my time engaging with industry has gone on, I’ve become more and more interested in what organisations can do to understand this problem and to support their employees and control the risks around it.”

She added that a core component of understanding fatigue was “subjective tiredness coupled with a subconscious shift towards low effort processing.”

As a consequence of this ‘low effort processing’ there might be a drop in standards, strategic shifts where you are trading off risk and effort and detrimental impacts on secondary tasks.

Offshore wind research

“This work started with looking at the effects of transit on offshore wind technicians, who take boat rides out to their place of work. So they’d drive to the dock, they would get on a boat to be shipped out to the wind farm, and then they would start the day of work,” said Dr Earle of her research in offshore wind.

“My particular interest in offshore wind comes from this unique set of challenges that they face. It’s a really interesting environment. They’ve got the transit, heavy physical work associated with servicing, they’ve got climbing and lifting, there’s mental demands, particularly if you’re a team leader.”

In addition, there are the environmental stressors, such as being out in the middle of the ocean.

“I thought this was a really great starting point to try and understand what we can take from this complex pattern of fatigue risks, and whether we can find a way of integrating that into a fatigue risk management plan that would be useful at an industry level.”

Fatigue build up and work culture

While the study is still ongoing and yet to be fully published, she did reveal a couple of significant early findings.

“From the data we’ve gathered, there was very much a cumulative picture to this fatigue, it was a build-up,” said Dr Earle.

“A really important aspect of this work is going to be understanding the implications of this fatigue build-up. What can we do to ensure that after so many days the technicians are still capable of working in a healthy and safe way?”

The second key aspect is around work culture.

“There’s a fairly dominant culture in offshore wind where fatigue isn’t something that’s easy to admit, either within a team setting or even to articulate it back to the organisation as a sort of formal report.”

“I think it’s going to be really important in managing fatigue going forward that we find a way of improving the culture so that discussions about fatigue are more open about it, that it isn’t quite so taboo and people are comfortable reporting it, and talking about it.”

Other speakers on the panel included Colleen Butler, senior human factors specialist at the Health and Safety Executive, and Prospect member, Mike Reed, an air traffic controller for NATS, who leads on the ATCOs’ engagement with the Civil Aviation Authority on fatigue, rostering and working hours.


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