Managing Employee Fatigue in Oil and Gas Industry

Oil and gas is a business that does not sleep. Companies in the industry operate 27/7/365 from exploration and production, to transportation, to refining and distribution. But even though the business doesn’t sleep, its employees do sleep, or at least they need to in order to work safely and efficiently.

For employers in the oil and gas industry, fatigued employees can be costly and have an impact on a business’s bottom line. Not only does fatigue pose serious occupational risks such as workplace accidents and injuries, but fatigue costs more than $136 billion per year in lost productivity including reduced performance and absenteeism.

What is Fatigue

Fatigue is more than a bad night’s sleep. The American Petroleum Institute (API) defines fatigue as “reduced mental and physical functioning caused by sleep deprivation and/or being awake during normal sleep hours.”  In fact, research has shown that when a person has been awake for 21-25 hours the level of impairment is similar to having a blood alcohol level over the legal limits.

Industry Guidelines

In 2010, API created the ANSI/API Recommended Practice 755: Fatigue Risk Management Systems for Personnel in the Refining and Petrochemical Industries (API 755).  Although government regulations do not require adoption of the practice, API 755 development was intended to introduce guidelines and to raise industry awareness about the risks associated with fatigue in the workplace.  API 755 recommends that oil, gas, and petrochemical organizations mitigate fatigue through a comprehensive fatigue risk management system (FRMS) that is integrated with other safety management systems.

A critical component of API 755 is its Hours of Service Guidelines.  These guidelines provide recommendations for maximum hours worked before time off, as well as requirements for rest between work sets. Fatigue often results from working extra shifts due to demand, working during outages, working when others are absent, or working when operations aren’t staffed appropriately.

Measuring hours worked by employees for each day provides a better assessment of fatigue. But how do you measure? Using manual processes to stick to the Hours of Service Guidelines can be burdensome, not to mention error prone.  Aside from tracking hours worked, the rules around work sets and rest periods differ for each type of shift. Relying on manual processes to track and manage this process can result in compliance issues as well as loss in productivity.

So even if you measure hours worked, so what? This doesn’t provide data or give insight into how you can prevent an incident from happening.  The key is real-time reporting of potential fatigue so an organization can catch it before it happens. This can be achieved by combining work history (actual punches) with upcoming schedules and right now, fewer than one in ten organizations in the oil and gas sector have any processes in place to capture this data.[1]

Leverage workforce management tools to address fatigue related challenges

Organizations that utilize proactive monitoring of fatigue estimate their fatigue-related cost-per-employee to be significantly less than those using other methods of fatigue assessment. [2]

Automated scheduling solutions can help energy firms comply with the Hours of Service Guidelines established by API 755. Managers can assign employees to shifts without having to think about the limitations for consecutive shifts or requirements for rest between work sets. Attempts to assign employees shifts that don’t meet the established guidelines will be flagged so that the schedule can be adjusted. If an outage or other emergency occurs, scheduling solutions can create a call list that keeps track of qualifications and certifications so that open shifts are filled by qualified, and rested employees.

Assigning the right number of employees to each job or shift with the right skill set will help to reduce employee fatigue and automated policy management enforces overtime and meal/break requirements so that employees get the proper rest during their shifts.

By deploying workforce management solutions, energy firms can help reduce absenteeism and injuries, increase workforce productivity, and improve the quality of day to day operations.

[1] “The Effects of Employee Fatigue And Its Management in the Energy Industry.” Penn Energy. 14.

[2] “The Effects of Employee Fatigue And Its Management in the Energy Industry.” Penn Energy. 9.