Research Projects

Understanding and Managing Worker Fatigue at Airports

A Fatigue Risk Management Program (FRMP), specific to the needs of ramp workers, will be developed and implemented in at least one airport with the feasibility, acceptability and efficacy of the program evaluated. An implementation schedule should then be devised to provide a successful program to ramp workers in major airports across the country.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

"Fatigue is a known risk factor in all aspects of transportation safety, especially aviation. Due to the nature of aviation, fatigue is induced throughout the industry. This fact has been recently highlighted with the reports of air traffic controllers falling asleep at inappropriate times during work. In order for aviation to be safe, fatigue must be managed throughout the entire aviation system, from crewmembers on the aircraft, to controllers directing the flights and to individuals driving vehicles on congested airport ramps or taxiing unoccupied aircraft.
Ramp workers are an overlooked segment of the circle of safety in the aviation industry. Worldwide, it is estimated that there are 27,000 incidents/accidents on airports ramps and 243,000 injuries (9 per 1000 departures) per year. Ramp accidents are estimated to cost major airlines at least $10 billion annually (2). According to data from the Service Employees International Union, there have been 99 people killed in airport ramp accidents since 2001 (3) The majority of the fatalities were ramp workers; however, the risks extend beyond the ramp and ramp workers. For example, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) a ramp vehicle punctured an aircraft fuselage on the ramp resulting in the departing aircraft experiencing a sudden cabin depressurization on a flight with 142 people on board (1). In 2015, a ramp worker who fell asleep in the cargo hold caused the aircraft to make an emergency landing (4). These incidents demonstrate that ramp accidents extend risks to the flying public.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implemented new rules to address pilot fatigue, however there are no federal or industry wide standards for ramp operations. Although duty hour restrictions have long been in effect for pilots and flight attendants, there are currently no limitations on the number of hours that ramp workers and other airport ground personnel that operate on the airport surface can work consecutively or in a 24-hour period. It is unknown how many of these employees work consecutive shifts and/or multiple jobs, compounded by the fact that many airports do not employ ramp workers directly, but rather through contractors. Nevertheless, ramp workers directly affect the safety of the airport and fatigue has not been examined in this occupation. Addressing fatigue in ramp workers will likely improve safety and efficiency and reduce costs associated with incidents and accidents.
The Government Accountability Office recommended that the FAA take several measures to enhance runway and ramp safety including working with OSHA and industry to better understand ramp accidents (1). Furthermore, a survey of aviation experts indicated that creating a culture of safety in the ramp area had the greatest potential for preventing ramp accidents (1). The safety culture and any comprehensive Safety Management System for airports must address fatigue of ramp workers and evaluate and mitigate its risk.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

A Fatigue Risk Management Program (FRMP), specific to the needs of ramp workers, will be developed and implemented in at least one airport with the feasibility, acceptability and efficacy of the program evaluated. An implementation schedule should then be devised to provide a successful program to ramp workers in major airports across the country.

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8 votes
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1 down votes
Idea No. 5

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