Mike Harnett, Leading Fatigue Expert, is interviewed along with other experts in this series “SafeSets”. Sleep deprivation is a common risk for anyone working in the film and television industry. In the first of these videos Harnett explains the dangers of fatigue and how it occurs . In the second video, Harnett discusses ergonomics and repetitive stress.
Host Paul Heinzelmann, MD, MPH, joins with cast, crew, and experts to discuss health and safety, and present fresh strategies for well-being in an industry full of hazardous conditions. Under pressure to meet tight schedules and long days, safety protocols get compromised to the determent of everyone in all areas of the production.
Heinzelmann hopes that newcomers, rebuking this unhealthy culture, will be the changemakers for these critical practises.
Asleep At The Wheel
Brutally long days and erratic sleep lead to accidents, chronic disease and depression.
Headaches, eye strain, repetitive strain disorder paired with disease from a sedentary lifestyle plague post- production.
Do you know where your fatigue-related risks are? Do you have the right strategies in place? If you’re worried about the impact of fatigue at the job site, or simply don’t know where to start, we’re here to help!
Mike Harnett, president of Solaris Fatigue Management, with one of the two Cooperative Truck Platooning System trucks at the AMTA Rocky View location.
Platooning Profiles: Mike Harnett, President, Solaris Fatigue Management
AMTA is releasing a series of profiles of the people involved with theCooperative Truck Platooning System (CTPS)project. The project is currently processing data from the nation’s first pair of artificially intelligent semi-trucks of their kind, including human factors.
A key element of the CTPS project is the study of human factors – including fatigue – and for Mike Harnett, president ofSolaris Fatigue Management, her company is the link between science and applying fatigue management in the real world of their customers.
“I always say, this career chose me, I didn’t choose it,” she said.
In her first job after graduating, Harnett focused on injury prevention with a Canadian railway company after a tragic freight train incident in which 23 people were killed.
“After an intense investigation, over 300 contributing factors were identified, but the key contributors to this tragic event was a combination of poor work culture and fatigued workers,” she explained. “From there, I was sent to Washington DC and Michigan to learn about these emerging topics called Human Factors and Ergonomics, and leaders in Australia were beginning to share their initial studies in Fatigue Management. They were really in their infancy. I’ve been augmenting my education and learnings ever since.”
Harnett said AMTA reached out to Solaris in 2020 regarding submission of a bid for the CTPS project to Transport Canada.
“I welcomed the opportunity to work with the AMTA and the other partners they had lined up, knowing that we were dealing with an issue that would have a strong impact on future regulations and the promotion of a fatigue risk management system beyond hours of service rules.”
Harnett explained most of today’s technology comes from experts in engineering and IT, but very few have employed human factors professionals into the mix.
“Thankfully, Transport Canada recognized this when they were reviewing the potential impact of a CTPS coming in to play. We already know that commercial drivers are subject to high levels of fatigue and decreased alertness while driving due to specific work factors including schedule designs, workload, sedentariness on longer routes, and personal factors such as poor sleep hygiene, sleep disorders, etc.
She added research clearly indicates when a driver is affected by fatigue, it negatively affects their reaction times (e.g., slower to brake), their situational awareness of traffic around them as well as their own driving behaviour (e.g., lane deviations), their visual acuity, and they are more likely to have difficulty with problem solving, reasoning and logic when something interrupts the normal driving experience.
While “fatigue is not something we are going to eradicate”, Harnett said organizations who accept that can turn their attention to mitigating risk through avoiding fatigue-promoting activities in the work system; looking at the task of driving through a fatigue lens; to see how much higher the risk is when driving while tired and supporting drivers with education and awareness on how best to manage fatigue.
“Fatigue management only works if you adapt it to fit into the context of your operations and what may work for one industry, or one company within that industry, does not always work for another,” she said. “That’s what makes Solaris different.”
This article was originally posted February 10, 2022 on
Very proud to have this report released! Thank you to all who contributed to our efforts, and a huge thank you to the CSA Group for tackling this issue. We are one step closer to providing all Canadian workplaces, both large and small, with a national standard on how to address fatigue. – Mike
With unprecedented levels of workplace fatigue attributed to modern day work, a national standard could help address the issue and improve workplaces in Canada (Toronto, November 20, 2019) –
Professional burnout is affecting a wide range of jobs, workplaces and industries, and there is no standard definition or management practice in place to address this issue. That’s the key finding from CSA Group’s latest research report Workplace Fatigue: Current Landscape and Future Considerations which was released today and finds that a common definition of workplace fatigue is currently lacking in Canada. In 2019, for the first time, the World Health Organization recognized burnout as a medical diagnosis. However, without a standard definition of what workplace fatigue means in Canada, it’s difficult to say how pervasive the problem is. CSA Group’s research finds that while a number of industries in Canada, including aviation, rail, marine, nuclear, oil and gas, healthcare and defense do recognize fatigue as an issue for workers, there is no comprehensive definition of workplace fatigue, what causes it or how it may affect performance.
“Our research has identified that there is certainly an opportunity for standards that address workplace fatigue to make a real and positive difference to workers in this country,” said Mary Cianchetti, President of Standards, CSA Group. “What we’ve found is there is a need to support the management of workplace fatigue in Canada for the health and safety of Canadian workers. CSA Group could help to address this gap with a national standard.”
In some workplaces, the potential consequences of fatigue can be a matter of life and death. Workers in paramedic services face unique health and safety issues on a daily basis such as shift work and extended work days, as well as periods of intense psychological stress or trauma. That’s why the Paramedic Association of Canada is currently working with CSA Group to develop a national standard on fatigue risk management for first responders, in parallel with this new research.
“Paramedics do a job that can be grueling both physically and emotionally, and workplace fatigue is an issue we cannot ignore. We know that the impact of fatigue on first responders can affect neurocognitive performance, which in turn can endanger not only their own personal health and safety, but also the health and safety of their fellow responders and the public they serve,” said Pierre Poirier, Executive Director, Paramedic Association of Canada. “This research identifies that a gap does exist in Canada when it comes to how fatigue is being addressed in the workplace. We are pleased to already be working with CSA Group to develop a standard for fatigue risk management for first responders aimed at reducing exposure to fatigue-related hazards and protecting both paramedics and the people they help every day.” In 2018, CSA Group introduced a psychological health and safety standard to address the specific needs of paramedic service organizations. The creation of a standard for workplace fatigue could address gaps in the existing legislation to protect the health and livelihood of all Canadian workers, regardless of where they work.
In my previous blog, we reviewed frequently asked questions I get at conferences, such as why we get up to pee in the middle of the night, what my dreams really mean, and how to reclaim sleep after bringing a baby into the mix. In Part 2, we delve into the impact of technology, sleep disorders, prescription meds and of course, non-prescription sleep aids.
1. I’ve heard looking at my smart phone can be bad for my sleep. How come?
All of our smart technology is driven by blue-enriched LED light. Within the full spectrum of light, there is a particular blue stream that has a direct effect on our ability to sleep by suppressing the production of Melatonin and affecting our circadian drive. Melatonin is our natural sleep hormone. It’s what helps us fall asleep and stay asleep.
During daytime hours, blue light exposure (including sunlight) is excellent. It can enhance our moods, improve focus and concentration, and actually help us sleep better at night. However, it’s all about timing and any night time exposure (after the sun has gone down) is strongly discouraged. Since the impact of light is affected by distance, small handheld devices like smart phones, e-readers, IPads, tablets and laptops are more damaging due to their proximity to your eyes than a big screen TV across the room.
While many devices have dimming features to ease eye strain, that is not the same as a blue light filter and will do nothing to prevent the suppression of melatonin. Most of our newer devices have built in blue-light filters to reduce this damaging effect. Check if your device has one. Go into settings, display, and then look for either “night shift” or “blue light filter” to activate it.
If you’re a day worker, use the automated “sunrise to sunset” feature. If you’re a shift worker, you may want to select specific times for it to activate. Your screen will turn a pink or orange-ish hue and greatly improve the chances of you getting a restful sleep. If your device doesn’t have a blue light filter, there are plenty of free blue light filter apps available online.
2. I’ve heard you can buy Melatonin. Do you recommend it?
Here’s what we know. It has been heavily marketed in recent years as a safe way to help get sleep, but synthetic melatonin is not the same as what your body produces, and does not take you through the sleep cycle like natural melatonin. Many side effects have been noted, including excessive grogginess the next day after you use it, upset stomach, and very vivid, horrific nightmares. It is also not recommended for people who have a history of depression, as it can enhance these feelings, or a history of seizures.
Recent scientific literature is advising that you restrict the use of Melatonin on a temporary basis, such as when you’re travelling across time zones, to help offset jetlag, but not to use it on a regular basis as a sleep aid. Not everybody produces, or requires, the same amount of melatonin, and the timing of taking it is just as important as the amount. For example, some need it earlier in the day than others. As for parents giving it to children, there simply isn’t enough long term research on the effects of children, but given what we know about the effects on adults, why take the risk of giving them nightmares or affecting the quality of their sleep.
If you suspect your lacking melatonin, a safer and gentler alternative is the natural supplement called L-Tryphtophan. It is the precursor needed for the body to produce serotonin in the gut, which ultimately is synthesized into our own natural version of melatonin.
3. How do I know if I have a sleep disorder?
Very simply, if you wake up unrefreshed and struggle to stay alert throughout the day, you could have a sleep disorder. If it takes you longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep, and you wake up several times during the night and can’t fall back asleep, you could have a sleep disorder. Most importantly, if someone tells you that you snore loudly, or has heard you gasp or choke during the night, you could have a sleep disorder. In this case, you may be suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
OSA is becoming more and more prevalent and is probably the most dangerous. It’s the result of something blocking our airway while we sleep. We literally stop breathing. When it repeatedly lasts for more than 10 seconds, you officially have OSA. This means we starve both the heart and the brain of oxygen, and this leads to all kinds of other significant health issues including cardiovascular disease and stroke. It also means we don’t get through all of the sleep stages that we need to because every time we gasp for air, it wakes us up and kicks us out of the sleep cycle, thus preventing us from getting the recuperative sleep we need. You’ll be constantly exhausted, unable to focus, and emotionally drained.
While obesity is a prime contributor to the onset of OSA (a size 17 neck for men and 16 for women is a primary risk factor), that doesn’t mean other people can’t have airway obstructions. Adults and kids alike can have enlarged tonsils or adenoids that block the airway. A narrow palette with a wide tongue could collapse back into the throat during sleep. Sleeping on your back is also a known cause. Heavy smokers, drinkers and those using sedatives are at high risk, as they all cause the muscles of the throat and tongue to relax and collapse on themselves.
It has been reported that 1 in 4 Canadian adults have symptoms of OSA. If you think this may be you, book an appointment at a sleep clinic to get checked out. Depending on the severity, you may be outfitted with either a dental appliance (minor OSA) or a CPAP machine (severe OSA). A CPAP machine is one that provides continuous positive air pressure to ensure the airway stays open while you sleep and is the most effective method for combatting OSA. Check if your benefit plan covers the cost of these devices.
4. What sleep medication would you recommend?
In short? None. And not only because I’m not a Doctor. Both prescription and non-prescriptions medications (including melatonin) disrupt your natural sleep cycle so they don’t replicate normal sleep patterns. Alcohol needs to be included here, as many people turn to is as a sleep aid.
Prescriptive medications (benzodiazepenes) are highly addictive and their use should be limited to being a last resort and only under the strict guidance of your doctor. However, even over-the-counter meds can create high tolerances and come with other side-effects. More importantly, taking medication only treats the symptoms, not the problem. Stress is a common cause of sleep disturbance, in addition to those previously mentioned. You need to address the heart of the matter for the best results!
I have the pleasure of speaking at various conferences and industry events on the subject of workplace fatigue. Regardless of the direction of my speech, there is inevitably a number of individuals waiting patiently to ask me questions about their own personal struggle with sleep.
It’s not surprising. Sleep was a mystery to us for centuries. It’s only been the last few years that science is beginning to unravel what is truly going on when we sleep, and why it’s not simply a waste of 8 hours in bed. Here are some frequently asked questions concerning why we don’t get the sleep we need.
1. Is it true we need less sleep as we get older?
For the most part, this is a myth. All adults require somewhere between 7-9 hours of sleep. As we age, we have a shift in how much time we spend in the different stages of sleep, with older workers getting less deep sleep (meaning less human growth hormone production) as well as REM sleep, reducing the overall length in the process. We also see a shift in our chronotype, meaning that as we get older, we tend to become more “morning larks”, getting up earlier in the day, often at the expense of not sleeping as long. It’s not uncommon for older adults to make up for their shorter night sleep by having a nap during the day, getting them closer to that minimum requirement of 7 hours.
2. It seems like every night I have to get up and go to the bathroom, and then I have difficulty falling asleep. What can I do?
There are medical and non-medical reasons why you’re waking up to pee in the middle of your sleep period. Urination at night (known as nocturia) can range from 1 or 2 episodes to as many as 5-6 times per night. The more frequent, the more we need to be concerned.
Try to get most of your hydration during the daytime hours and cut back at night, with no liquids a couple of hours before you go to bed. Alcohol, coffee and tea are all diuretics and will increase the need to wake up and visit the bathroom.
Keep in mind that as we get older, our bladders lose their “holding capacity”. We also have less of an anti-diuretic hormone that allows us to retain more fluid before we need to run to the bathroom! Older adults are at higher risk for certain medical disorders, or may be on medications that directly affect the bladder. Urinary tract infections, diabetes, and liver conditions could be culprits. Nocturia is also a warning sign for the development of something more sinister such as cancer of the bladder or prostate. Frequent urination isn’t always due to a full bladder.
Finally, shift workers may experience a body clock disorder that makes the body think it’s daytime when it’s nighttime and vice versa, and upset the natural timing of when we’re supposed to urinate.
If you can’t attribute your nocturia to consuming liquids too close to bedtime or some other cause, then please consult with your physician. Keep a daily drinking diary to help them determine what is going on.
3. I never dream. Is there something wrong with me?
Whether you know it or not, you are in fact drifting in and out of dreaming throughout your sleep, but if you don’t wake up while it’s happening, chances are that you won’t recognize it. For example, most of our vivid dreaming occurs during REM sleep, but if you wake up during a different stage of sleep, you may not notice the dragon chasing you through the woods. If you wake up and remember your dream, it often reflects a more gentle form of waking up, as opposed to an alarm clock blasting you awake or your kids jumping on top of you.
A sudden awakening typically causes a spike in noradrenalin being released, which quickly washes away your ability to recall the dream.
There are many theories as to why we dream, but academics are leaning towards the memory consolidation process, meaning that it reflects the brain trying to figure out what information is important to keep, and what can be removed. Think of it like a file cabinet where you have to weed out the old information to make space for the new.
4. I have very vivid dreams. Most don’t make any sense. Should I be worried?
One of the things that happens when we enter into our dream state is a heightening of emotions, creativity, and imaginings. This is due to a quieting of the frontal lobe of our brain, which is responsible for things like logic, problem solving, reasoning and self-control, and an increase in activity in our amygdala, which is responsible for our “fight or flight” hormones. As a result, our dreams are often incredulous, or make no sense at all. Don’t worry. You’re normal.
5. I’m a new parent. I am chronically sleep deprived. Please help!
A recent 2019 study examining new parents and sleep found that sleep deprivation lasted for the first 4-6 years after the birth of the first child. The first three months were the worst, with mothers receiving about 60 minutes less sleep, but improved to 40 minutes less sleep for the rest of the first year. The effect on fathers was less pronounced at only 13 minutes less sleep even during the first three months.
What’s worse is that not only are you getting less sleep, but you have more interruptions throughout the sleep period, with one survey indicating new moms getting only 1-3 hours of undisturbed sleep at a time. This interrupts our sleep cycle and you may miss out on critical stages of sleep.
The act of breastfeeding is a known sleep enhancer, making it easier for mom to fall asleep while feeding as opposed to bottle-feeding which causes the baby to move about more and disrupt the quietness of the situation. More controversial but often promoted is the notion of breastfeeding and sleeping in bed with the infant to minimize awakenings to both mom and the baby. If it means less sleep disturbances, it might be in your best interest.
Napping is a tired parent’s best friend. It can supplement the sleep you’re not getting. To effectively nap during daytime hours, be sure you have blackout drapery with no TV or lights on around you. Use a white noise device to block out daytime sounds from outside. And most importantly, lie flat. We fall asleep quickly when we’re lying down, but not so when simply reclining on the couch or in a chair. Try to always nap in the same location. Our bodies thrive on routine and as soon as you enter into your sleep space, it will help you to fall asleep quicker.
Still, every once in a while, you need a good solid night of sleep. Have your mother-in-law, siblings, or someone else who owes you a favour, take care of the kids for a night every couple of weeks so you can escape into deep, undisturbed sleep.
Finally, give yourself a break. The housekeeping police won’t be coming by to see if you made the bed, dusted the shelves, and vacuumed the carpet. Time is your most important commodity. Make sure your older children keep up with the chore list. If cost isn’t a huge factor, hire somebody to mow the lawn, clean the house, or pick up your groceries. And with all the options now available, ordering in food has became a lot more nutritious (and less clean up required)!
The holidays are a joyous time, but let’s face it, all that travel and celebrating can be exhausting! We’ve compiled some tips to help you stay rested and keep you singing fa-la-la-la-la instead of fa-fa-fa-fatigue.
There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed, but during the holidays, chances are your squatting on someone else’s turf. Here are a few tips to get the best sleep you can while sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings.
If you’re staying in a hotel, ask for a room
far away from the elevator and all the noisy traffic it brings.
Bring an eye mask in case the curtains don’t darken
the room enough. Or, use clothespins or hairclips to hold the curtains closed.
Don’t forget the earplugs to block out the
celebrations in the room next door (wink wink J)!
Use your new Christmas socks or scarf to cover
up any light sources in the bedroom. All light is bad light when trying to
If you’re staying at someone else’s home, let
your hosts know what time you would prefer to get up so that they know not to muzzle
the kids and not bother you before you’re ready.
If your hosts have pets (or young children),
keep the bedroom door closed to discourage them from entering and disturbing
your sweet slumber.
Bring your own pillow (especially if you have
allergies) to optimize your sleep and prevent a kink in your neck.
Travel with anti-histamines. They produce a
drowsy effect that can help you fall asleep when the house is noisy, and they
don’t have the addictive or narcotic effect of sleep medications.
If you use a C-Pap device, make sure you bring
it with you. There are travel versions available for easier packing.
Stick to a Schedule
Our bodies’ circadian rhythms crave routine, including a set sleeping schedule. However, if you find yourself invested in an all-night Christmas move marathon, or catching up with family and friends over one too many libations, a mid-day nap may be just what you need, but make sure you stick to the rules!
Limit your nap to 20-40 minutes to avoid
falling into a deep sleep or, commit to at least two hours so you can complete
a full sleep cycle and wake up back in the lighter stages.
No nap is too short. Sometimes a five-minute
nap is all you need to kick start the festivities all over again.
If you’re traveling
between time zones, there are more rules to follow.
If it’s a short trip (2-3 days) to see Aunt
Bertha and Uncle Herbert, or if you’re only travelling across one or two time
zones, stick to your home schedule. For example, if you normally go to bed at
11PM EST, make sure you still go to bed at 11PM EST even if it’s 9PM MST.
If it’s a longer trip (3+ days) or across
multiple time zones (hello jetlag!), slowly adapt your routine towards the time
at the new location that you’re headed to.
A few days prep can make all the difference!
Watch the Indulgence
The holidays are a time for indulgence and who are we kidding, most diets go out the window until the new year. However; what we eat and drink can have a big impact on our sleep.
Avoid late-night meals and snacking when our digestion is shut down.
Over-indulgence of alcohol especially 2-3 hours before you go to bed not only increase drowsiness, but significantly disrupt sleep patterns and the ability to get into deep recuperative sleep. It also wipes out your memory.
Alcohol also increases snoring by causing the throat muscles to relax.
Salty snacks can cause dehydration, which makes you feel tired.
Eat breakfast to help stay alert throughout the day.
Sugary snacks and beverage give a quick energy boost, but after 30 minutes, can makes us crash and burn.
Don’t Blame the Turkey!
We all know the turkey drug… Tryptophan! Yes, it makes you drowsy and has a calming effect, but only when the tryptophan is activated. So what activates tryptophan? Carbohydrates such as stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and all the lesser regarded dishes at the holiday feast that we overdose on. If you just ate turkey and nothing else, you would be alert enough to do the dishes after dinner instead of crashing in front of the TV within 5 minutes of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. So stop blaming the turkey.
During the flurry of activities, set aside time to get out for some fresh air and exercise. Not only will it help keep the holiday pounds off, but it also does wonders to relieve stress and stabilize your body’s circadian rhythms for a better night’s sleep.
Finally, make sure you schedule in some quiet time for
yourself; catch up on a book or take a relaxing bath!
Before you know it,
the holidays will be over and you’ll need a vacation!