Nightshift Policy and Fatigue Management

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Nightshift Policy and Fatigue Management

37TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Toulouse, France, 30 March – 3 April 1998

WP No. 148

Nightshift Policy and Fatigue Management


At the Taipei Conference in 1997 SC4 presented a WP (159/97) on the Medical Effects of Night shift, which was accepted as guidance material. At the Taipei conference, SC4 agreed to formulate policy from the paper. See Section 9-10 Medical Effects of Shiftwork.


SC4 was also encouraged to gather information on the psychological and social effects of shift work as separate “items” in addition to the medical effects. It seems that most psychological and social effects are direct or indirect results of medical effects.

Very little material is available on psychological and social effects alone.

SC4 discussed the need for guidance for ATCO’s in the form of a personal check-list to identify countermeasures for the effects of night shifts. Because of the lack of scientific studies on psychological and social effects of shift work, SC4 has concentrated on creating new policy and to strengthen existing policy based on the existing WP on medical effects. After further examination and discussion SC4 suggests a revision/or creation of new policy on the following items:

  • Fatigue Management including the role of the employer. (No specific existing policy) except working environments;
  • Roster construction. Some references already exists (IFATCA Manual, page 4131) but SC4 thinks this can be added to;
  • Staffing levels during night work;
  • Working Environments (IFATCA Manual, page 4122 Para 2.3);
  • Establishment of policy on strategical napping;
  • Duty hour limitations, with regard to the limitation of extra duty (Overtime, IFATCA Manual, Page 4132 Para 3.5).


If there is a need for a check-list as personal guidance for ATCO’s to identify countermeasures to the effects of night shifts, SC4 have concluded that the list already exists in WP159/97 accepted in Taipei. It should then be the responsibility of each MA to make this information available to their members, with appropriate local adjustments.

Because of the lack of scientific studies on psychological and social studies we recommend policy changes mainly based on WP159/97.


It is recommended to Conference to amend the IFATCA Manual as follows:

On page 4 1 2 2, Para 2.3 Working Environments, add a new paragraph 2.3.4:

2.3.4 The physical working environment regarding control room temperature, lighting, relative humidity, adapted rest areas and facilities for eating and drinking must be designed so as to facilitate night shift demands.

On page 4 1 3 1, Additions to paragraph 3.1.4 Duty Rosters, add a new paragraph 1:

Duty rosters including night shifts should be of a rapidly rotating shift system in a morning, evening, night cycle. Consecutive night shifts are not recommended.

Add a new para 3:

After a night shift, an off duty period of minimum 16 hours is recommended.

Add a new para 4:

Change over times between night shift and the following morning shift should not take place before 6am local time, to ensure that sleep duration for the morning shift is adequate before commencement of their duty time.

On page 4 1 3 3 Extra Duty, add a new paragraph 3.5.7:

3.5.7 The allocation of overtime should be carried out with limitations in human performance in mind. The combination of overtime and night shifts clearly increase the risk of fatigue among controllers, because resting periods are reduced, and the possibility for sleep-loss recovery may be reduced accordingly.

Renumber existing para 3.5.7. as 3.5.8.

3.5.8 Member Associations should attempt to have duty time regulated by the appropriate body. Where legislation is not achievable, hours of work and extra duty should be stipulated in their respective collective agreements. (Jerusalem 95.C.2)

On page 4 2 2 3, Specific Matters, Paragraph 2.5 Fatigue in ATC, delete paragraph 2.5.2 and replace with new paragraph 2.5.2 as follows:

2.5.2 Management has the prime role for providing fatigue management and prevention of fatigue-related catastrophes. Any situation where increased fatigue, decreased sleep, or performance loss can be demonstrated, is a situation where the margin for error is reduced, albeit by some unknown amount, and should be avoided in ATC.

Renumber paragraph 2.5.3 as 2.5.10 and insert new paragraphs as listed:

Add new para 2.5.3:

2.5.3 The provision of a satisfactory working environment appropriate rostering, rest periods, facilities, use of overtime, relief controllers and education in human factors shall be agreed with the air traffic controllers involved. Attention must be given to individual differences, age and gender.

Add new para 2.5.4:

2.5.4 In exercising the responsibilities of designing of duty rosters (Page 4131 para 3.1.4. refers), management shall be responsible for providing physical arrangements (relief controllers and adapted rest area) and sufficient break periods for controllers to try to maintain their daily eating habits regardless of which shift they are working. Such physical arrangements and sufficient break periods shall be provided to allow for strategic naps during night shifts.

Add new para 2.5.5:

2.5.5 Management shall approve the implementation of strategic naps as an effective way of improving alertness and anchoring the circadian rhythms of controllers during night shift.

A strategic nap is defined as a short period of sleep taken at specific times during a night shift. Recommended duration of a strategic nap varies from maximum 20 minutes for a nap early in the night to maximum 50 minutes late in the night (after 4am).

Add a new para 2.5.6:

2.5.6 Management shall in close coordination with the air traffic controllers involved, carefully consider staffing levels during night shifts. For those controllers who have very heavy traffic loads during the night shifts, additional relief should be considered as an appropriate countermeasure to sleepiness and fatigue in order to increase the safety margins, and to reduce subsequent daytime sleepiness.

Add a new para 2.5.7:

2.5.7 Use of overtime shall generally be kept to a minimum, and a system for allocation of overtime which takes the limitations in human performance as a factor shall be established. The combination of overtime shortly before or just after night-shifts shall be avoided.

Add a new para 2.5.8:

2.5.8 Control-rooms shall be tobacco-smoke free areas due to the negative effects on dexterity caused by smoking.

Add a new para 2.5.9:

2.5.9 MAs should advise their members and management about the causes of fatigue and countermeasures available. MAs should encourage their management to include theory about the physiological principles related to sleep and circadian rhythms, both in controllers retraining and basic education. Such training should include knowledge of ways to take deliberate actions (countermeasures) to better meet controllers operational requirements.


WP 159/97 Taipei 1997.

UK Scheme for the Regulation of Air Traffic Controllers Hours, DERA, 18 March 1997 Principles and Guidelines for Duty and Rest Scheduling in Commercial Aviation, NASA 1995.

Study of the Impact of shiftwork and Overtime on Air Traffic Controllers, Canada 1994.

Last Update: September 28, 2020  

March 10, 2020   323   Jean-Francois Lepage    1998    

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