Ep 12: Fatigue Management expert Dr Adam Fletcher explains industry trends
Brendan: Welcome to Episode 12 of The Australian Health and Safety Podcast. I’m Brendan Torazzi, the host of the show and also the director of OHS.com.au Australia’s first health and safety training marketplace. Today I’m joined by Adam Fletcher from Integrated Safety Support. Good day Adam.
Adam: Good day Brendan.
Brendan: How are we on this beautiful afternoon? I’m not sure what it’s like in Melbourne but Sydney is having a sunny day for the first time in weeks.
Adam: It’s absolutely beautiful here. I have thankfully had just work to do from the office. I’m in shorts and T-shirt. It’s delightful.
Brendan: Tell me a little bit about Integrated Safety Support and what do you guys do?
Adam: Integrated Safety Support really was born when I returned from the United States in 2006. I’ve been working as a research volunteer for the US Army in Washington DC specifically looking at sleep and fatigue issues for the US Army. I realize I really wanted to move out of full time research and into solving challenges and problems related to fatigue and workplace performance and safety in government and industry organization. I founded the company and we have really tried nearly 13 years now on very fatigue related issues. It’s very clear from the workers and the long term clients that we have built up but we really have been able to establish a really valuable nation and thankfully get to do really valuable and interesting work all over the world mainly related to too much fatigue and keeping people alert and safe and productive in 24 hour work environments.
Brendan: I’m curious about the US Military, do they sleep starve their people? Could you often that their military could learn to survive in very little sleep? Is that the case or do they encourage sleep?
Adam: I think it’s something a number of people don’t fully understand or perhaps clear a few myths about. My people when they’re going through their training, certainly basic training and a lot of specialists training they do have a lot of short to medium term sleep deprivation periods so that you can learn what happens to you personally when you’re put under a period where you’re not getting enough sleep but more often than not in operational environments or operational theater they generally do try and optimize the sleep that people are getting unless it’s generally unsafe for people to stop. People think that the military are taking stimulants and other substances to stay awake all the time. Generally they’re only doing that if it’s not safe for people to stop. They usually rather people sleep and maintain high levels of performance.
Brendan: Of course the military is a lot more than just I had envisage on the cold face actually in some kind of war or something like that but there are lots of parts of the military obviously.
Adam: I think there is a much better understanding, I think even in the last four or five years, I think a much better understanding that optimum performance is much more than staying proficiently awake and having your eyes open and breathing. I think there is much better understanding of the nuances of situational awareness and other subtle executive performance capabilities and sleep is clearly a major foundation for that. That is understood more so now than it was four or five years ago.
Brendan: When I met you probably 12 or 13 years ago when we first brought the sleep pods to Australia. We soon discovered that Australia kind of led the world in sleep science. Why do you think that is the case? We’re such a small country in relation to the rest of the world at least in population size? Why do you think that Australia has been up there?
Adam: We definitely do punch above our weight. There is no question about that. There’s a lot of very high caliber sleep scientists and people in Australia and New Zealand as well actually. I don’t really know the answer to that question. There’s certainly a lot of links to sleep in modern times in the US. The very discovery of REM sleep in Stanford University in the fifties and then really the sort of expanding view of managing shift work and sleeping in 24 hour work environments started simultaneously in the US and Europe in the late seventies, early eighties but you’re right. In the nineties and 2000’s and beyond there is definitely a big concentration of people who are respected and considered experts in sleep and fatigue related areas in Australia. I don’t really know why. Perhaps there are some cultural elements. Perhaps there’s other explanation but I’ve been around this field for more than 25 years and I don’t have a really clear answer for that.
Brendan: You think like you being Australian, running an Australian business that works with fatigue management and the human factors do you think that helps you when you’re doing work overseas?
Adam: I think most places in the world do still really love Australians. We are generally liked in most places around the world.
Brendan: Because we live so far away. They’re not neighbors really.
Adam: Maybe we’re just a distant novelty usually. I definitely think people are interested in spending time with Australians and I also generally think and I don’t know whether this is just because of our multi-cultural heritage or what it might be but one of the pieces of feedback my team and I get a lot from clients around the world is we tend to be very respectful and aware of cultural and other factors. Obviously sleep and fatigue issues are certainly hardwired into us as humans in many ways but there is obviously lots of cultural and local factors that can influence people’s choices to sleep or not to sleep and things like that. A lot of feedback that we get is that we’re very aware and factor in a lot of those very local cultural and other factors. There seem to be something about our ability to consider those things and not just trying forth our solution on people. That seems to be very appreciated as well. I think that is a factor.
Brendan: Integrated Safety Support, developing technologies to help manage sleep or how do you fit as far as that goes moving forward?
Adam: We’re certainly not going to be developing any hardware, monitoring devices via a wrist worn sleep monitors or cameras mounted on a dashboard or a cockpit. Those technology solutions are definitely for others. We’re building a lot more software based solutions so we create integrations of fatigue, modelling software into existing scheduling systems and things like that. Earlier this year we have released our first app which is a free app available on the Apple and Android app store called FatigueSafe. That is a one minute personal self-assessment for fatigue. Certainly we’ve got a lot of data analytics capabilities. We’re building a lot of software app and analysis type solutions but not so much in the hardware space.
Brendan: It’s more around the I guess when you can sell to clients it’s more analyzing the data they’re collecting around sleep and management. Would that be a…
Adam: That is a lot of it and certainly an increasing proportion of what we’re focusing on. We still do some more traditional consulting in the sense that we might review fatigue related policies and procedures. We might carry out risk assessments for a particular business or operational site. It’s that kind of classic, safety, management consulting but certainly increasingly clients are looking for more technology driven solutions algorithms, streamline analysis or reporting capability and things like that. We certainly will be able to do that.
Brendan: I’m seeing like a trend across so many industries where data and data analytics is really where the world is moving and we’ve got so much data that you’ve got to be able to analyze it and work out what that actually means.
Adam: I think the majority of organizations now do have huge volumes of data. What we discovered with our clients is they generally still very much data streams in silos but they’ll be a silo of safety related information that is separate from the silo of human resources information which will include over time and absenteeism, sick leave and things like that. That would be separate to industrial things. The data analytics methods that we deploy quite a lot we’re really starting to look across all these different data sets. Also scrapping in other external data sets like weather information or public holiday calendars and things like that and actually starting to see where the patterns existed in previously separate streams of data. They’re getting a lot of very deep insights. I mean in some cases very unexpected insights in a lot of those things. It’s something that we’ve had a lot of success in the last few years. It’s definitely an area that is exploding quite quickly.
Brendan: What percentage would you say of your practice would be overseas related work versus local work? Percentage basis, is it 80% local and 20% overseas?
Adam: In the last couple of years we’ve been nearly 50% international each year. Where that work has been has differed and actually over the last 10 years has differed from year to year quite a bit. In the last year we’ve done work in Columbia, Brazil, US, Canada, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, India, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, UK. That is probably the main countries but yes, probably about 50% the last few years.
Brendan: I’ve got to ask you have you tapped into the government research grants.
Adam: Not actually. When I was an academic full time that was certainly a case of funding and credibility. I do hold an adjunct professor role at the University of South Australia and working some research projects particularly supporting early career researches. To be honest it’s actually easier to get money from industry and also government agencies directly rather than through the research channels. As long as you’re actually going to deliver and provide the value that your promise which we do we tend to have a lot of quite big government contracts that do roll on year on year out. They’re asking for things that promising them and delivering them and they keep finding things for us to do. The research funds is not really something that we’re trying to tap into too much these days.
Brendan: I think I was more thinking around the Export Marketing Development Grants given that you spend so much time overseas.
Adam: We certainly have used the Export Marketing Development Grant and also the R and D program as well. Certainly we’re not just doing straight fee for service consulting. We do develop and innovate quite a lot. That often then adds to costs within my business to try and develop things that we believe are going to be of value before we test them and evolve them. We definitely do work with those programs.
Brendan: Are there some major trends in what industry is using your services? Aviation obviously is one and you mentioned the military.
Adam: It does change a bit for the geopolitical situation in the world I’ve observed. There is no question that Aviation has been a core focus of ours really ever since the beginning. Sleep and fatigue management is definitely quite strong in aviation globally. Before the GFC we were seeing a really big upturn in activity and focus in the oil and gas and mining industries. That really fell off a cliff in a really major way when the GFC started fighting. Then other industries that you think it would be really relevant all that trucking and logistics and things like that. They’re generally quite low margin businesses in the first. Our observation is they don’t tend to get into things unless they’re required to by the regulator. We certainly do work in those areas. It tends to be a relatively low proportion. For our business at least a lot of it is aviation, aerospace, government agencies which could include emergency services be it ambulance, paramedics, fire and things like that, hospitals but also then a spattering of mining, oil and gas, logistics and things like that.
Brendan: Would I be right to assume most of your work is won by word of mouth like a referral?
Adam: Mainly. We’ve been around 12 to 13 years. The majority of our work now is repeat clients and word of mouth. Also when clients change companies or change roles they sometimes inherit a bit of a basket case and bring us to try to clean up what they have inherited. That is where most of our work comes from.
Brendan: The other thing that I wanted to ask you was sort of can you give us an example where there has been a real ROI on like the before you guys come in and advising some changes to be made versus then you go in and implement some changes to some, I guess grab some low hanging fruit to make some wins and give us some example of something like that. I’m putting you a little bit on the spot there.
Adam: That is okay. We don’t get to publish specific details of specific clients that often because most of our clients are in competitive areas but I can definitely give you some general examples. One example that springs to mind is for an aviation company that we’re working for who has some very rich data and with our support has some very great data analytics capability. We actually worked out the analysis that were legal in terms of what they could operate with flight and duty times were probably not that great from a safety point of view, at the edges of the limit. Then there were other rules that they have been constrained by that were nowhere near the areas where safety would be affected. We were able to collect a lot of data that really built a safety case based on their own evidence, their own data that actually indicated that we thought it would be safer to use a different rule set to the one that they were currently needing to work to.
We were given a pilot approval and ultimately a longer standing approval to actually have a dispensation from the normal regulation which gave the company a great deal more flexibility but really at no loss from a safety point of view. Probably the lining on that story too was that they had much higher retention rates for staff and significantly lower sick leave rates as well which obviously have a very genuine cash improvement for that business. We’ve seen similar results in terms of reducing absenteeism in other projects that we’ve done in a variety of industries certainly in trucking, certainly in rail as well and even in emergency services situations. If you can be reducing absenteeism and staff turnover it’s a very clear metric. It’s definitely very measurable from a dollar point of view but it’s also clearly indicating that people are happier and healthier. From our point of view that is a very meaningful metric to be able to track.
Brendan: I guess when you get wins like that it make it a lot easier to they’ll be screaming for you to come back to do some more cool stuff like that.
Adam: At a point in time it does tend to become fairly self-funding which obviously helps a lot when you’re trying to develop new initiatives. If you can go to your executives and say, look we’ve got evidence that we’ve saved $77,000 in this business in the last six months. What we’d like is your permission to spend $30,000 on this other initiative which we think is going to save us $100,000 a year and we’re going to measure to see if we’re going to do that or not. It does make the case a lot easier to get over the line.
Brendan: You’ve got a conference I understand coming up. Tell us a little bit what you’re doing and what’s it called and how people can register.
Adam: We’ve had a lot of inquiries particularly from around the Asia Pacific Region for us to have an APAC event specifically focusing on fatigue management and human factors within industry. On March 12 to 14, 2019 we’re hosting a three day event at Suntec Convention Center in Singapore. The first day will be a seminar format and the following two days, days two and three will be a hands on workshop to be able to build or improve a fatigue management system. We’ve got some great speakers concerned. We’ve got people coming from NASA, from Boeing. We’ve got international academics participating, myself and my team obviously. Certainly people can go to my website and see the banner for that and click on that. Our website is IntegratedSafety.com.au. I’m sure you can probably put that in the notes for this episode as well.
Brendan: Yes, for sure. We’re going to wrap up now Adam. For a guy who is involved in sleep how much sleep do you get each night?
Adam: I definitely give a bigger priority than I did in the past. Usually now I spend eight hours in bed. That usually translates into somewhere around seven and a half hours of sleep per day give or take. That definitely keeps me at my best.
Brendan: How old are you?
Adam: I am 43 about to turn 44.
Brendan: What do you do to keep fit?
Adam: I used to do lots of exercise. I worked out over the years that really I don’t need to do as much as I thought that I needed to do. I’m reasonably fit and healthy but I tend to stick to doing one yoga session a week, one weight session a week, pretty heavy but safe weights and generally just one high interval cardio session a week. I find if I can do one of those each a week I stay pretty fit and well.
Brendan: Over the next 12 months what personal goal would you like to achieve?
Adam: I’ve got a three and a half year old daughter. Next year is her last year before she starts school. My real personal goal is actually to just keep a very solid balance between contributing and getting value from the work that we do in the business but also being around as much as I possibly can to be spending time with her and just enjoying that very special, last, little window before she starts 12 years of school.
Brendan: Then finally what business achievement would you like to be most remembered for? This is always a bit of a tricky one for people particularly when I put them on the spot.
Adam: I’ve always been driven personally and professionally by really trying to support humans to be healthy and safe and contribute valuably in their work but if I sort of extend it out into the future what I really like to be remembered by is to be the guy or one of the people who really was able to quantify meaningfully why looking after people in terms of good rosters and work patterns and supporting good sleep behaviors, things like that. I really would love to be remembered as one of the people who demonstrate quantitatively why that is good for not only safety but also just business in general and also profit in the bottomline. We’re certainly able to do that now and I don’t even think a few years ago we’re able to do that in a very clear way but now we certainly can.
Brendan: Thanks very much for coming on the show. If you want to learn more about Adam it’s IntegratedSafety.com.au. If you’re enjoying the show please remember to subscribe and leave us a review.
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