AWO releases fatigue risk management guide

The American Waterways Operators (AWO), the national advocate for the tugboat, towboat and barge industry, has released a new safety resource: “Developing a Fatigue Risk Management Plan: A Guide for Towing Vessel Operators.”

The guide, produced under the leadership of AWO’s Fatigue Risk Management Working Group, is the latest milestone in AWO’s two-decade effort to reduce the risk of fatigue-related accidents in the towing industry, working in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Transportation Safety Board, and internationally renowned sleep experts.

Designed to help towing companies take a proactive approach to fatigue prevention by incorporating fatigue risk management plans into their safety management systems, the guide was recently endorsed by the Coast Guard-AWO Safety Partnership’s National Quality Steering Committee.

Fatigue risk management plans take a comprehensive, customized approach to addressing fatigue risk factors within a company, as recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board. The implementation of fatigue risk management plans was a key recommendation of a 2015 TRB report, “Enhancing Sleep Efficiency on Vessels in the Tug/Towboat/Barge Industry,” authored by sleep experts from Northwestern University’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology.

The NTSB has called for increased use of such plans throughout the transportation industry as one of its Most Wanted Safety Improvements for 2017-2018.

Developing a Fatigue Risk Management Plan encourages towing companies to evaluate their operating environment for fatigue risks and identify policies and procedures already in place to mitigate these risks. From there, a company can use the guide to link existing fatigue mitigation measures into a comprehensive fatigue risk management plan and identify and implement additional practices, controls and other tools to close gaps or expand their current efforts. These include educating crewmembers about the effects of fatigue, improving the sleep environment on board vessels, establishing fatigue reporting protocols, and measuring the effectiveness of fatigue prevention efforts, among other elements.

“AWO continues to strive to make our safe industry even safer, and this guide is another step toward our goal of zero harm to human life,” AWO president & CEO Tom Allegretti, said in a statement announcing the new guide. “We are grateful to all the members of the Fatigue Risk Management Working Group who lent their time and expertise to make the creation of this new safety resource possible. We hope that this guide will serve as a useful tool for the tugboat, towboat and barge industry — an industry committed to a culture of safety and continuous improvement.”

About the author

Ken Hocke

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.


  1. Avatar
    Captain Scott White on

    until the CG and tow company’s address the 6 and 6 you will never get good sleep on a tug. The facts are on a working boat 6 off isn’t enough off time. How are you suppose to eat, shower, sleep in 6 hours? Maybe at the most I get 5 hours at a time, more like 4 and a nap in the afternoon. I would like to see the CG require a 3 men 4 on 8 off, the only way to solve it.

  2. Avatar
    Captain Joseph Dady on

    I would be interested in seeing the Plan to see if it actually recommends actual healthy sleep hours, a lower maximum work hour policy and the elimination of the two watch system. Without addressing those adversities rooted in the industry it’s just more of the same smoke and mirrors.

  3. Avatar

    IMHO, It is terrible for a persons health to work a 6 on 6 off schedule. Most people would be better served to work a 12 on 12 off watch.

    On vessels that are under way at least 20 out of 24 hours a day should have a second mate. 4 on 8 off watches could then be employed and no one standing watches could ever have any complaint about fatigue.

    If the operation is pretty busy and involves ship work. The 6 on 6 off watch will shorten a mans life by 10-12 years in most cases.

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