The risks of fatigue and distraction on job sites are well known. These factors not only affect the safety of operators and the people around them, they also negatively impact productivity and can increase operational costs. Although many organizations know they have fatigue and distraction challenges, most do not have a means of measuring the scope of the problem.
That’s why, over the past few years, Caterpillar Safety Services has developed a comprehensive solution that makes fatigue and distraction risk visible, mitigates incidents and optimizes operations. It’s called the Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) and it has already proven successful in improving safety and reducing costs associated with fatigue as well as increasing productivity and enhancing employee relations.
The idea behind FRMS is to build layers of protection around employees that predict, measure and mitigate risks before they can happen. We spoke to Todd Dawson, Fatigue Solutions Manager for Caterpillar, about how the system works.
“What we do is build a site-specific fatigue management plan that works over several layers, depending on what customers need. FRMS works with anyone who is concerned about fatigue. That can be a large copper mine with 2,000 employees or a four-person operation. We can go in and do everything from developing a broad fatigue management system to a comprehensive, layered approach.”
One of the technologies available to Todd and the FRMS team is the Driver Safety System (DSS). The DSS is camera-based hardware installed or distraction. “When operators show signs that they are beginning to fall asleep, the DSS will sound an alarm. Then a follow-up assessment can be made to ensure that person can operate equipment safely from then on,” said Todd.
Another innovation adding protection is the Cat® Smartband. It’s an unobtrusive, wrist-worn device designed specifically for monitoring operator sleep quantity and quality. “Inside the Cat Smartband is a 3D accelerometer that automatically measures alertness. Operators can view how well they are performing at any time. If the Smartband reads performance levels approaching 70 percent, that means the operator is considered fatigued. Managers can then review performance data for their entire crew and make adjustments in areas like policies and scheduling to prevent fatigue in the future,” Todd added.
Caterpillar developed the FRMS after customers became more and more aware that fatigue is a serious issue on the worksite. In fact, long-time customer BHP Billiton came to Caterpillar and asked which fatigue and distraction measurement systems they should be using. “It was a joint effort where we identified a handful of technologies that seemed to fit their needs best, had the most promise or were already doing well. So it was really our customers that drove the development of the FRMS through our existing safety services group. We knew adding a fatigue solutions package would be beneficial for customers,” said Todd.
Depending on the scope of the project, a full FRMS can be operational in six to nine months. However, the rollout of fatigue detection technology, such as the DSS or Smartband can take just two to three months.
“It all depends on the customer’s needs and goals. We spend a significant amount of time training. We come on site, meet with operators and explain the technology so they know what it does and what to expect,” said Todd. “A key element is continuous improvement. Doing the training and installing the technology doesn’t mean you’re done. The reality is that the operation and group dynamics change over time. I remind my customers about the importance of regular check-ups every 12 to 18 months.”
Of the many ways to measure success with the FRMS, the most important is to have everyone go home safely every day. But, there are also operational measures and research that show an alert, well-rested operator performs better. There’s less hard braking, less fuel use and even improved morale.
“I’ve been doing this sort of thing for more than 20 years. For me, it’s a passion. I’m building relationships with these customers and I want to make sure they are benefiting from what we are working toward. The one thing I love is going back and meeting with customers. It’s important for me to talk to people from top to bottom and hear how their lives have changed, not just at the jobsite, but also at home. When you get to that level you really see how you have made a positive difference in the culture in which they live and work. Those are the greatest success stories,” Todd said with a smile.