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Pilots’ union warns politicians of the dangers of ‘sleeping on the job’ when it comes to fatigue culture

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) is to tell MPs that more needs to be done to ensure a culture that understands, prioritises and manages fatigue is created, particularly in safety-critical industries like aviation.
BALPA Head of Flight Safety, Dr Rob Hunter, will give the briefing at the Sleep and Health seminar at Portcullis House on Tuesday 16th October. Experts from medicine, research and occupational sectors will be there to highlight the latest research and discuss implications for policy with those in the corridors of power.
Dr Hunter will highlight the problems that pilots face working shifts where start times vary dramatically from day to day, crossing time zones and staying away from home. He will also discuss involuntary sleep on the flight deck and examine the things that prevent fatigue related accidents from happening.
Dr Hunter will point out that a sympathetic fatigue culture in aviation, where pilots do not fear being penalised for reporting unacceptable levels of tiredness, is vital.
Dr Hunter will say:
“In aviation, and in-fact any safety-critical industry, we must understand fatigue and create a culture that prioritises and mitigates it.
“Out Flight Safety team has been monitoring rosters and schedules that pilots fly and has highlighted numerous working arrangements that are putting strain on flight crew.
“There is a discrepancy in the number of official fatigue reports received by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and what pilots tell us they are experiencing. We believe that’s down to the lack of a sympathetic fatigue culture and the fear pilots have that they could face recriminations should they come forward and report it. 
“BALPA is also hearing increasingly of cases of long-term sickness related to fatigue and ‘burnout’ as well as an increased demand for part-time work. These are indicators that current work levels cannot be sustained.
“As an industry we can’t fall in to the trap of ‘sleeping on the job’ when it comes to fatigue. It is vital that across the industry we get to grips with this issue and put in place sensible fatigue management systems.
“This briefing gives BALPA the chance to help those in power understand the complexities of the problem and focus on ways we can begin to mitigate fatigue.”
Dr Rob Hunter Biography:
Dr Rob Hunter is Head of Flight Safety for the British Airline Pilots’ Association and he is a Transport Safety Commissioner. He is a qualified GP, a consultant specialist in aviation medicine and pilot on Boeing and Airbus types. He manages a department that is researching “how tired is too tired” for airline pilots to undertake their work.