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ATCO On-duty fitness
Medical Assessment: The evidence issued by a Contracting State that the license holder meets specific requirements of medical fitness. It is issued following an evaluation by the Licensing Authority of the report submitted by the designated medical examiner who conducted the medical examinations of the applicant for the license. (ICAO Doc 9669 Definitions).
According the requirements provided in ESARR 5, an air traffic services provider at an ATS unit shall ensure, as part of its overall safety responsibilities, that all ATM services’ personnel responsible for tasks in the provision or supporting the provision of air traffic services, which are considered to be related to the safety of air traffic, are competent to carry out those tasks and satisfy applicable medical fitness requirements.
Staffing in ATM is defined as resourcing ATC Operations with competent staff at all required operational positions to provide a safe, orderly and expeditious flow of traffic within the capacity declared by the Air Traffic Service (ATS) unit, including periods of known or unknown workload extremes and/or degraded system operations. This implies the following requirements of the staff involved:
- to have an appropriate mix of experience,
- to be fit for duty,
- to be legally qualified,
- to be motivated.
The ATCOs are required to be well-rested and alert, and to hold a valid medical certificate based on the Licensing Authority Medical Assessment. The importance of the medical certificate (including yearly electrocardiogram to those after age of 40) is an incentive for most ATCOs to be health-conscious. Awareness of personal fitness for duty state is of great importance as well as balancing personal and professional life and scheduling free time.
In order to be considered fit for duty ATCOs should be:
- Medically fit
- Rested for duty
- Free from psychoactive substances such as alcohol or drugs
Some personal strategies which could be utilised to keep balanced and fit for duty state may include:
- Exercise - it improves cardiovascular fitness and muscle endurance. It can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and lower blood pressure. On the psychological side, exercise gives an increase in self-esteem and improves an individual’s overall sense of well-being.
- Nutrition - good dietary requirements are relatively simple: a good balance among protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals and water.
Physical and Mental Fatigue
Fatigue is recognised as one of the major factors that can impair human performance and has been cited as a cause of accidents and incidents in the aviation industry. Physical fatigue concerns the inability to exert force with ones muscles to the degree that would be expected. It may be an overall tiredness of the whole body, or be confined to particular muscle groups. Physical fatigue most commonly results from physical exercise or loss of sleep. Physical fatigue often leads to mental fatigue. Mental fatigue, which may include sleepiness, concerns a general decrease of attention and ability to perform complex, or even quite simple tasks with customary efficiency. Mental fatigue often results from loss or interruption of the normal sleep pattern and is therefore of great concern to pilots and ATCOs, who are frequently required to work early in the morning or at night hours. Sleep patterns are naturally associated with the body's circadian rhythms. Shift patterns can interrupt circadian rhythms so that, for example, it may be difficult for ATCOs on duty in the early hours of the morning or at night to achieve satisfactory rest prior to commencing duty.
Some recognised solutions for keeping personnel fit for duty may include but not be limited to:
Solutions for Employers
- Ensure that work schedules, including consecutive shift-working patterns, are constructed so as to have the least possible impact on off duty rest - and if applicable, provide means for on duty rest.
- Seek to provide optimum working conditions;
- Use Team Resource Management training to promote awareness of fatigue and sleep issues.
- Build and maintain a healthy organisational safety culture, give opportunity for controllers to report if they are not fit for duty for medical or personal reasons.
Adopt personal strategies which are likely to decrease the effects of fatigue such as the following:
- Lead healthy lifestyle: diet and physical exercises
- Plan activities such as meals, rest and sleep patterns during off-duty and on-duty periods;
- Making the most of permitted rest breaks, including naps;
- Advise colleagues if one detects feeling fatigued or ill and not fit for duty;
- Alert colleagues if they appear to be becoming fatigued.
- ATM Shift Management
- Controller Workload
- Circadian Rhythms (OGHFA BN)
- Fatigue Management: Guidance for Air Traffic Controllers and Air Traffic Engineers
- ATC Task Demand
- Study Report on Selected Safety Issues for Staffing ATC Operations
- Fatigue and Sleep Management
- When are you tired to be safe?
- Human Performance and Fatigue Research for Controllers, Serber et al., 2010.
- FAA Fact Sheet – Sleep Apnea in Aviation, Feb 2015.