With the dog days of summer behind us and the home stretch of the skydiving season approaching, it’s important for jumpers to keep their guards up. July is typically the most fatal month in sheer numbers, but the fatality rate stays consistently high through October, even as the season begins winding down. It is no surprise that more incidents happen per jump in October than in August, because fatigue plays a major role. Incidents also happen more on Sundays than on Fridays, and more occur at the end of the day than in the morning.
Several factors—including too-little, poor-quality or interrupted sleep over a period of time—can cause fatigue. Fatigue is the body’s signal that it needs a rest period. Long work hours and extended and irregular shifts may be stressful physically, mentally and emotionally. The body operates on a circadian rhythm, which is naturally programmed for sleeping during night hours. Demanding work schedules may disrupt the body’s natural cycle and lead to increased fatigue, stress and lack of concentration.
Those in skydiving careers are at high risk of fatigue, because staff work long hours for many days in a row and are exposed to extreme environmental conditions. Environmental conditions can include things like noise or vibration and changes in temperature, pressure and oxygen density when riding to altitude. Effects of fatigue can include slower reaction time, more errors and decreased cognitive ability.
Fatigue is more than just feeling tired. In fact, research shows that spending 17 hours awake is equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05, while 24 to 25 hours awake is equivalent to a BAC of 0.10. We would never let anyone jump with alcohol in their system, yet fatigued jumpers routinely engage in skydiving.
Fatigued jumpers can put themselves or others at risk, so it’s important for everyone to know the signs of fatigue. Here are some of the key symptoms to watch for:
- Tiredness, weariness or sleepiness
- Reduced alertness, concentration or memory
- Lack of motivation
- Increased mistakes or lapses in judgment
- Increased susceptibility to illness
Fatigue has very real, tangible effects at the drop zone. The most concerning ones are an increased rate of accidents and injuries because of the negative influence fatigue has on decision-making. As of August 28, there have been 12 skydiving fatalities in the U.S. This puts us on track for another low fatality rate for the year if this trend continues. However, we still need to take care of ourselves and those around us. So as the season winds down, we all need to step it up. A safety culture is not just reserved for the drop zone. It’s much easier to embrace safety as a lifestyle when it is a priority no matter what environment you are in.
Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training
Fatal Incidents by Month 1999-2018