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Fatigue Management for Musicians

The entertainment industry generally is concentrates activities around the leisure time of audiences.  Naturally musicians have commitments during daylight hours and traditionally perform their entertainment craft at hours traditionally set aside by the general public for rest.  The inherent truth is that musicians are always active, with the dangerous negative effects of fatigue becoming their constant companion.

The reality is that time must be set aside for rest.  Travelling from show to show, performing night after night is treading a narrow tightrope with disaster ready to receive your momentary lapse in attention.

This document is designed as a short point of reference to help musicians and their crew to avoid fatigue and plan their activities, by understand how to recognise and prevent fatigue.

Weariness and fatigue are the bodies built in alarm systems warning us of the body’s requirement for sleep and rest.  Sheer will alone can often defeat hunger or thirst for limited periods, but the truth is that fatigue is outside of your control.  If we ignore the warning signs and try to fight through fatigue, we WILL lose.  Fatigue related motor vehicle accidents involving injury and death occur on a daily basis throughout the world among people who do rest regularly.  Musicians and their crew, travelling from gig to gig often following late nights or other commitments, are at an extreme level of risk when considering fatigue related accidents.

The lifestyle of travelling musicians is constantly circling disaster and efficient management is required to minimise the risks.

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THE CAUSES OF FATIGUE

To help avoid the risk of death or serious injury, musicians and their entourage need to plan travel and appearance with attention afforded to and understanding of fatigue causes.

Tiredness and drowsiness are the bodies warning signs that we NEED to rest.  Lifestyle changes in the music industry are often difficult to achieve, but the key defining element of having a lifestyle at all is having a life.

By understanding the processes that make us tired, you are better equipped to manage your commitments and routines to reduce the chances of disaster brought about by fatigue.

The music industry has undergone drastic changes in recent years.  The days of musicians making a living solely through recorded music are behind us and generally, performers need to be touring to make a living.   Economic pressures come from all directions in the music industry from promoters, labels, media and fans alike, thereby increasing the demands for ‘face time’.   Statistics clearly demonstrate that the general public has decreasing opportunity for rest and the average available sleep time is significantly reduced.  The last time an average night’s sleep ranged from 7.5 to 8 hours was in the 1950’s.   So the dangers of fatigue-related accidents are all around us.  Increased time on the road puts traveling musicians at risk of injury or death from the fatigue of other road users, without compounding the potential for disaster by risking travel with the effects of fatigue.

Our bodies operate around a cycle known as the Circadian Rhythm which is a natural biological cycle of 24 hours.  Chronobiology provides us with the knowledge that most living organisms operate on this rhythm and the cycle itself consists of physical, mental and behavioral changes that approximately follow a 24-hour.   The cycle and the organism responds to the light and dark in the surrounding environment.   The ‘night owl’ type of existence is a choice and behavioral changes assisting that life, but the simple and unavoidable truth is that this behavior is not natural for the human body and changing our cycle absolutely, is considered to be impossible.   We are physiologically programmed to respond differently to night and day, especially to adjust with seasonal changes.

Our temperature levels alter differently from night to day, even our digestive systems operate differently.  When we force our body to operate outside of the Circadian Rhythm we become fatigued quite naturally.   During the night a hormone secreted by the pineal gland called melatonin increases.   This is to make us sleep, and although the ‘body clock’ can be adjusted marginally, it cannot be altered absolutely.  Studies of work-rest regimens and defining factors in Antarctica continue with much debate.

The only known cure for fatigue is sleep and rest.  When you sleep less than your daily requirement, you accumulate what is known as a sleep debt, namely the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep.  At some point, the deficit must be repaid.    If you are working at night with reduced sleep, time must be allocated to sleep during the day, but realise that because you are more alert during the day, the rest will not be as efficient as a good night’s sleep.   Short naps of at least twenty minutes can be of assistance in reducing fatigue, but nothing can substitute the benefits of a full night sleep.

THE EFFECTS OF FATIGUE

Fatigue is a reduction in physical and mental ability attributed to sleep disruption or physical exertion.   The effects include memory lapse, reduced awareness, reduced coordination, inability to process information efficiently, reduction in reaction time, inability to efficiently judge risk and reduced attention.   Other effects can include hormonal changes and behavioral problems.  Some medical conditions increase fatigue and if physical fitness and sleep time availability are not lacking, but you are still suffering from fatigue, a visit to the doctor may be advisable.

When we couple the effects of fatigue and the duties of musicians and their crew, the dangers increase exponentially with the simplest of tasks.  The manual handling injury risks and danger of musculoskeletal disorder associated with lifting and carrying equipment can be increased drastically when fatigue is a contributing factor.  Fatigue is known to significantly increase the effects of alcohol and is a central contributing factor to countless additional scenarios.  However, the prime purpose of this work is to raise awareness of fatigue in the music industry and attempt to assist in reducing the risks to health and safety, particularly on our roads.  I honestly cannot in good faith presume that any person would knowingly ignore the signs of fatigue and risk imminent disaster to themselves or another, and can thereby only surmise that poor decisions and judgment by a fatigued driver would be a simple underestimation of the danger.

So how do we identify fatigue in ourselves and others?

SPOTTING FATIGUE AND REDUCING THE RISK

Self-assessment is very difficult when fatigue is affecting you because some of the symptoms include the inability to efficiently judge risk, or evaluate circumstances that may be becoming dangerous for you. Therefore if self-assessment is so difficult, we must presume that traveling with another person who can assist with identifying fatigue before an incident occurs, would be a sensible suggestion.

What to look for in oneself and others include:-

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SOME HELPFUL TIPS

  • Avoid long work hours at night. Leave time for sleep

  • Clearly, define duties for your road crew including mandatory rest breaks

  • Don’t let a driver party all night with you and trust your welfare to them next day

  • Ensure your management have allowed for adequate and scheduled rest

  • Allocate a person solely responsible for transport. Make sure they rest appropriately

  • Allocate break times during the tour or show schedule when everyone rests at suitable times

  • Adopt suitable risk management techniques

  • Arrange accommodation for after your show. Travel to the next venue after suitable rest time.

  • Repay your sleep deficit before you become a danger on the road

  • Ensure you are rested for timely reactions and forward observations to avoid the mistakes of other road users

  • Allocate times for physical exercise

  • Schedule days off when touring

  • Take regular breaks when driving

  • Regularly discuss fatigue indicators with your party and encourage breaks

  • Try to avoid sleeping people as your travel companions (when you are quiet letting someone sleep, the effect can be a sleeping driver)

  • If you need to – cancel a show – Don’t let a disaster do it for you.

No one plans to suffer fatigue and there is nothing worse than losing a member of your group to injury or fatality. This document is designed to provide helpful assistance to musicians and their entourage in the interest of health and safety for all.  For more tools, assistance, advice or planning, visit us at www.safetyba6.com.au and have a look at the Music Industry Resources page. Contact us for any requirements you may have our assistance we can provide you to GET TO THE GIG.

Article Donated by SAFETY BA6