Occupational fatigue is extremely serious! Mental and physical exhaustion caused by work is an important problem that can cause incredibly severe consequences both for the person experiencing it and others around them.
Fatigue and being burnt out from work is something that especially pilots should be wary about. A farmer getting his arm caught in the forage harvester or a butcher cutting off his own fingers because of a lack of focus and being tired is a different story, but pilots experiencing occupational fatigue can endanger the whole crew and passengers on-board.
When we take into account the fact that there are certain factors that make pilots particularly susceptible to occupational fatigue and that it poses serious dangers for everyone involved, knowing more about “pilot fatigue” is necessary for all pilots, both for their own health and the safety of their passengers and crew.
So, let’s start learning about the causes, symptoms and dangers of “pilot fatigue” and explore the best ways for pilots to avoid occupational fatigue.
Causes Of “Pilot Fatigue”
Our bodies need plenty of rest. When we don’t get enough sleep or when we are working too hard that we are physically and mentally exhausted it starts to become taxing on the body.
Fatigue can show itself acutely, maybe after a hard exercise session or a long day at work. But when you don’t give your body the rest it needs for an extended period of time, then it may turn into a chronic problem.
Understanding what causes occupational fatigue is the key to fixing the problem. Here is a list of the possible culprits behind pilot fatigue;
• Not enough quality sleep: Getting a good night’s sleep is important for all of us. But as the demands of the modern life increase, we become busier and busier to the point that sleep becomes a luxury. With a hectic schedule, layovers at airports and sometimes needing to commute for 2-3 hours to get to the airport, pilots get their share of sleep problems. If you are experiencing the pilot fatigue, the first step is to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night regularly. The sleep quality is as important as the quantity so make sure to sleep in a pitch black room and a comfortable bed.
• Interruption of circadian rhythm: Experiencing jet-lags all the time and night flying can cause your circadian rhythm to be thrown off balance and your sleep schedule can shift, leaving you unable to get enough sleep. Find strategies to combat circadian rhythm shifts.
• Dull and repetitive tasks: Another cause of pilot fatigue may be mind-numbing tasks so whenever you find yourself zoning out, take little breaks.
• Poor health: Not being in the best shape, eating an unhealthy diet, not drinking enough water and lack of regular exercise can be a cause of occupational fatigue.
• Heavy physical work: Make sure to keep your workouts light and avoid strenuous activities.
Symptoms And Consequences Of Pilots Dealing With Occupational Fatigue
Just like any health problem, occupational fatigue comes with many indicators. Although everyone’s body is different and you may not have the exact same symptoms with someone else experiencing occupational fatigue, here are some of the signs and indicators that you may be dealing with it;
• Falling asleep on the job
• Yawning excessively and looking sleepy all the time
• Bad eyesight and decreased mental sharpness
• Feeling sleepy and tired
• Delayed response time
• Lowered focus and attentiveness
• Reduced hand-eye coordination
• Needing to sleep more on days off work
As we have pointed it out before, pilot fatigue is very dangerous. Occupational fatigue causes lowered cognitive functioning and can be likened to excessive alcohol consumption.
When not dealt with carefully it can cause accidents and errors resulting in disasters that could otherwise be prevented. Along with that chronic fatigue can be detrimental to the physical and mental health of the person experiencing it.
Tips For Pilots To Avoid Occupational Fatigue
Exercise regularly and avoid strenuous workouts
Exercise has tons of benefits for your body. It can help you stay in shape and if you are doing it right, it is very beneficial to your cardiovascular health. Along with that, light exercise may help regulate your sleep schedule and keep your energy levels constant throughout the day.
Drink enough water and eat a healthy diet
The importance of a healthy diet can’t be denied. When dealing with low energy levels and fatigue eating healthy foods in small portions and drinking enough water is especially crucial.
Excess bodyweight can cause shifting energy levels and may be a cause of chronic fatigue. If you are struggling with excess fat, losing a few pounds can help you get your energy back tremendously.
Take little breaks
Instead of taking on more than you can accomplish at a time try separating tasks into small chunks and taking little breaks in between.
Get professional help
If it looks like there is a more serious issue going on behind your fatigue and it doesn’t seem to get any better no matter what you try, you might want to consider consulting your physician.
Avoid getting stressed out
One of the biggest reasons of feeling burnt out and tired is stress and worry. Develop healthy strategies for dealing with uncertainty.
Pilot fatigue can be caused by many things including frequent jet-lags, poor lifestyle choices, interruptions to the circadian rhythm of the individual and tedious tasks that pilots have to do all the time.
Because it not only affects the pilot but it also affects everyone on-board, pilot fatigue is no joke and it should be very clearly understood and actions should be taken to prevent it.
Some of the symptoms of pilot fatigue are constantly feeling tired, decreased mental acuity, blurred vision and reduced focus. Whenever you experience any of these symptoms as a pilot you should start taking precautions.
There are several ways to prevent and deal with pilot fatigue, such as leading a healthy lifestyle, taking little breaks from activity, losing weight and when nothing seems to be working; getting some professional help. But most importantly, make sure to take it easy on yourself and avoid stressful situations.
Anon. (n.d.), Pilot fatigue, Wikipedia, Retrieved 25 February 2021 < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilot_fatigue >
Sarina Houston (25 June 2019), Flight Fatigue Experienced By Pilots, The Balance Careers, Retrieved 25 February 2021 < https://www.thebalancecareers.com/the-pilot-fatigue-problem-282930 >
Lindsey Row (20 February 2019), Occupational fatigue presents danger, costs employers, Worksite Medical, Retrieved 25 February 2021 < https://www.worksitemed.com/occupational-fatigue/ >
WebMD Editor (n.d.), 9 Ways to Get Your Energy Back, WebMD, Retrieved 25 February 2021 < https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/get-energy-back >
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