Research Expertise in
Occupational Psychology and Human Factors
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The Human Factors team includes psychologists and management-science specialists from the University of Hull. With extensive research experience in the effect of human factors in work systems, the team has particular expertise in occupational stress risk and fatigue and long-standing track-records in applied research, including in offshore wind, policing, call centres and local government.
The team is led by Professor Fiona Earle, a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with 20 years’ experience of applied collaborative research in occupational stress risk management. Professors Malcolm Higgs & Terry Williams bring vast experience of applied management-science, having both been Deans of University Business Schools with extensive research and industry engagement. The team have secured £millions in research income and applied research and consultancy, and have extensive collaboration networks. Our team’s research impact was recently rated excellent by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 Panel, and the University of Hull achieved impressive results overall. Read more…
Our team specialises in undertaking bespoke occupational stress risk assessments. Employers have a legal duty of care that extends to mental health, and the requirement is that all organisations should do a risk assessment of the work-related causal factors in stress, and then act on the findings. In 2004, the Health and Safety Executive published the Management Standards to enable organisations to ensure their risk assessment methods are aligned with the evidence base around the causes of stress in the workplace. Our stress risk assessment methods are based around the Management Standards framework, enabling sector benchmarking. We support organisations in undertaking the assessment process using the HSE’s Management Standards Stress Indicator Tool (SIT) and interpreting the findings. In many organisations, it is also of value to go beyond the risks highlighted in the SIT by undertaking a bespoke stress risk assessment. We manage this process end-to-end, gathering qualitative data across key areas of organisations to understand the unique risks facing the workforce within a given organisation or sector. We then use this to develop a bolt-on to the SIT that measures the prevalence of the unique risks across a larger sample. We then support interpretation of the findings, providing recommendations for priority areas for intervention, and supporting the action planning process.
The Centre For Human Factors encompasses over twenty years of research into the cause, effects and management of employee fatigue in high risk occupational environments.
Led by Professor Fiona Earle, our work in this area ranges from experimental laboratory-based research to consultancy in business and industry, applying research and insight to support organisations to manage work-related fatigue.
Academic research in this area has focused on
- understanding the conditions that lead to fatigue, particularly high levels of mental and physical workload and effort
- exploring and measuring the consequences of fatigue for work-related performance and safety-related behaviour
- exploring the multidimensional nature of fatigue and how different fatigue risks interact
Published work in this area includes
- van As, S., Veling, H., Beckers, D., Earle, F., McMaster, S., Kompier, M. & Geurts, S. (2021) The Impact of Cognitive Work Demands on Subsequent Physical Activity Behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
- Earle, F. Huddlestone, J., Williams, T. Stock-Williams, C., van der Mijle-Meijer, H. & de Vries, L. (2021) SPOWTT: Improving the Safety and Productivity of Offshore Wind Technician Transit. Wind Energy, 21, 1-18.
- McMaster, S, C. (2020) A mixed methods investigation of multidimensional fatigue in the wind industry: Towards a sustainable workforce. PhD thesis, University of Hull.
- Midgley, A., Earle, K., McNaughton, L., Siegler, J.C., Clough, P.J., Earle, F. (2017) Exercise Tolerance during VO2max Testing is a Multifactorial Psychobiological Phenomenon. Research in Sports Medicine, 25 (4): 480-494.
- Earle, F., Hockey, G.R.J., Earle, K., & Clough, P.J. (2015) Separating the effects of task load and task motivation on the effort–fatigue relationship. Motivation and Emotion, 39 (4) 467-476.
- Earle, F. (2015). Fatigue and mental toughness: The impact of mental toughness on the development of fatigue. In D. Strycharczyk & P.J. Clough (Eds.), Developing Mental Toughness: Coaching Strategies to Improve Performance, Resilience and Wellbeing. Kogan Page.
- Hockey, G.R.J., & Earle, F. (2006) Control over the scheduling of simulated office work reduces the impact of workload on mental fatigue and task performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 12, (1) 50-65. (FE from PhD: theory, design, data collection/analysis, writing)
- Earle, F. (2004) The construct of psychological fatigue: A psychometric and experimental analysis. PhD thesis, University of Hull.
- Sauer, J., Hockey, G.R.J., Wastell, D.G., & Earle, F. (2003) Performance in a complex multiple-task environment during a laboratory-based simulation of occasional nightwork. Human Factors, 45, (4) 657-670.
From this research, the Centre has developed a unique method of exploring and managing the fatigue-related risks in occupational contexts.
What is fatigue?
Fatigue is the subjective experience of tiredness and aversion to further expansion of effort. It results in impaired cognitive processing and the tendency to gravitate towards lower effort strategies. This means that individuals are more likely to engage in risky behaviour when they are fatigued. It can be impacted by many different factors including:
- Sleep quantity
- Sleep quality
- Mental, physical and emotional work
- Circadian imbalance
- Exposure to extreme environmental conditions
Everyone experiences fatigue as a natural consequence of wakefulness and effort. This is different to chronic fatigue which is a serious and sustained condition of which a major symptom is constantly experiencing fatigue. It is important to see fatigue as a normal part of our functioning and a natural response to heavy work or prolonged demands and wakefulness. All workplaces need to ensure that fatigue is considered and managed in a sensible and sustainable way to prevent health and safety issues caused by individuals working in an unsafe, fatigued state.
What are the risks?
Poor management of fatigue can be dangerous, especially in high hazard work environments. Major workplace incidents such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were linked to operator fatigue in official accident investigations. In the longer term, poorly managed fatigue is also associated with mental and physical health issues for employees, such as burnout.
How is work-related fatigue currently approached?
The Health and Safety Executive stipulate that organisations should have a Fatigue Management Plan (FMP) in place. Many organisations do this, however they generally use a unidimensional approach based around the impact of shift design on sleep opportunity.
The HSE state that using a ‘sleep calculator’ approach is not enough to fully manage the risk of fatigue. However, most fatigue management plans don’t incorporate the many other factors that can influence fatigue in employees, such as mental, physical and emotional demands.
This leads to a risk for organisations, who believe that they are sufficiently managing fatigue, when in fact they are only addressing one aspect of the challenge.
We offer a support service for fatigue risk management which incorporates a multidimensional view of the risks that can cause fatigue. Organisations can engage with us using different approaches, including a fatigue risk assessment survey and fatigue exploration and gap analysis program (see more on our ‘consultancy’ page).
SPOWTT is a complex, multidisciplinary, multinational project which aims to address an important health and safety issue for marine transit of technicians working in offshore wind operations and maintenance (O&M). The central objective of the project is to develop an evidence-based, open access tool to support the ‘sail/no sail’ decision process for marine coordinators authorising O&M technician work. Weather, sea state and vessel motion is monitored alongside psychological and physiological measures to assess the complex relationships between environmental conditions of transit and the impact on technicians. These data will be combined to create a model, and then a tool, that will support the Marine Coordinator to 1) launch, 2) not launch, or 3) to launch with certain control measures. At its conclusion, this project will have produced an open access decision making framework that can be utilised by marine coordinators across the OSW industry. The resulting tool will allow decisions to be made which are grounded in evidence of the human impact of sailing in different conditions.