Innovating ways to get everyone home safely

By Dan Welshons and Faraz Shafaghi | September 23rd 2022

In April of 2021, we announced our partnership with Cambridge Brain Sciences and our joint pursuit in developing a workplace cognitive assessment pilot program to help understand employees’ cognitive function and gauge if they’re fit for work.

The program aims to decipher if employees can safely perform their jobs or tasks in the midst of other stressors in their lives; most notably, issues like stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, substance abuse, and an increased use of electronics that can cause distraction.

Ensuring that workers are fit for duty is a significant concern, particularly with high-risk jobs or tasks: operating heavy equipment, working at heights, and exposure to energy and harmful substances in workplace environments produce risks that we need to be aware of and manage.

We believe the mental acuity of an employee is the key to reducing incidents at work. And just as we put measurable site precautions and controls in place—along with PPE and other effective control measures—being aware of a worker’s cognitive ability is critical to ensure they can complete their job safely and effectively.

By placing a particular emphasis on total worker health and work performance through psychometric testing, we can mitigate risks, and ultimately, create safe solutions to bringing everyone home while achieving no harm.

How we got here

In 2016 in the south London town of Croydon, there was a tragic tram derailment. Of the 69 passengers on board, 62 individuals were injured, and 7 fatalities occurred. It was found that the tram was traveling at 3 times the recommended speed when going around a bend. Notably, a rail accident investigation allegedly found that the tram operator had a period of microsleep before the crash.

With this in mind, Phase 1 of CBS’s pilot focused on a UK transportation company with a specific focus on their office workers. By way of data collection and self-administered assessment, the aim was to capture the employees’ ability to focus and make sound decisions, measuring the results against a performance metric that is indicative of fitness for duty.

This phase of the project required a volunteer group of office workers to perform a rigorous psychometric testing regiment: twice daily and 3 times a week, the group was asked to respond to a series of cognitively challenging questions, designed to measure the volunteers’ ability to concentrate and effectively complete tasks.

This resulted in almost 1200 assessments collected over 5 weeks with 3600 task scores. Despite the heavy daily testing regimen, the results were streamlined successfully and with scientific acuity, deeming Phase 1 of the pilot a success.

Where we are now

With meaningful change at the core of everything we do, this project gives leaders a way to assess employees’ cognitive state and then manage change to safely complete their work. Referred to as a Fitness for Duty cognitive assessment, the test results ultimately indicate when an employee should be flagged as potentially unfit.

At this point, a flag alone can’t prove that fit for duty has not been reached, but it notifies administrative and worker supervisors that a member of the team is not at their best which opens the door for further discussion. With non-invasive, self-administered tests, this routine check-in serves not only the workplace, but also doctor’s offices as a way of benchmarking and assessing patients’ mental wellness. Often, individuals can’t accurately gauge their own impairment, and this test offers an unbiased assessment tool.

What’s next?

With Phase 1 of the pilot program focused on data collection from an office-based employee population, the focus for Phase 2 has shifted to operations or site-based teams to further apply what we’ve learned in a more dynamic environment.

In particular, Phase 2 of the pilot will focus on optimal work shifts for teams—a schedule that maximizes their ability to make good decisions while taking care of their overall wellness. With a focus on workers with irregular sleep patterns due to work schedule, this phase of the pilot aims to answer the question: What work shifts create the healthiest employee and the best work performance?

A good example is the work being done with tram ram maintenance employees. These employees have varying schedules and work anywhere from 7 to 10 days straight with labor-intensive work, little control over task selection or sequence, and restricted opportunities for breaks. The disruptive nature of this type of shift work is known to increase fatigue and sleepiness and induce a decline in productivity and cognitive performance.

Ultimately, Phase 2 looks at ways to maximize periods of sleep while enhancing work performance and will provide the data needed for employers to be creative in developing such a schedule.

Workplace safety is a core value. We believe technology, analytics, and cognitive tools will be a way to ensure we all go home safely at the end of the day, and as we move through this next phase of the project, we’re getting close to creating a way to help our clients measure if their employees are fit for duty, particularly before the start of the workday.

To learn more or to book a pilot, contact Dan Welshons, Hatch’s Global Director of Health and Safety.