The previous CFEMP instruction was released in 2017, after a comprehensive review of the at-sea collisions of the USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), which resulted in the death of 17 Sailors and more than 50 Sailors injured.
The new CFEMP instruction is aimed at sustaining the culture shift that has been occurring within the surface force that changes the mindset of work and watchbill being two separate things. Instead, the goal is to combine the two activities so it better supports the individual, according to Dr. John P. Cordle, SURFLANT’s human factors engineer.
“With this instruction, we wanted to provide commanding officers and ships with a means to better manage their workday and watch rotation to improve crew endurance,” said Cordle.
Since the original instruction was released three years ago, the Navy has identified ways in which it can be improved. The new instruction is the culmination of a review process that began in June of this year and included studies from the Naval Postgraduate School and the Naval Health Research Center, as well as the ideas and opinions from human factors experts.
“A couple things improved in the new instruction: tightening it up and making crystal clear what the priorities are: warfighting, readiness and elite performance,” said Cordle.
“Secondly, we address the fact that a vast majority of mishaps are traced back to human factors and human error. We added an enclosure to capture all of the best practices, good ideas and feedback from fleet operators and scientists, and even included some thoughts on exercise, sleep and nutrition. We looked at the topics in a more holistic way, after having more time to flesh it out.”
The instruction will direct SURFLANT and SURFPAC ships to implement these two principles: “First, use one of several watch rotations that align with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which generally means standing watch and sleeping at the same time each day in a 24-hour cycle. The second is to have a supporting schedule to protect periods of sleep for watchstanders -- no matter when they have watch,” said Cordle.
Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are a part of the body’s internal clock and are essential in the human body’s ability to function properly. Fatigue and a misaligned circadian rhythm can have detrimental short and long-term effects on the body, both mentally and physically.
Short-term fatigue can contribute to depression, anxiety, and an inability to learn and concentrate, added Cordle.
“Now, science shows the long-term negative effects of sleep deprivation, including diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, and even cancer are linked to a lifetime of non-circadian (lifestyles), called circadian-scarring.”
Like the previous CFEMP instruction, there is also an individual risk management (IRM) tool, which is used to assign a risk level to an operation by conducting a brief prior to any major operation or evolution. The IRM is broken down into categories accounting for each Sailor’s watch-to-rest ratio, the Sailor’s experience level in the watch station that he/she is manning, the weather and the condition of any equipment being used. These factors add up to produce a risk number or level for each individual in each category.
The new instruction has expanded the IRM to include a list of questions that will be asked to the individuals participating in the operation, including: “Have you read the instructions?” and “Has anyone had issues with this procedure before?”
A main principle in the instruction, the circadian watch rotation might be implemented in a variety of combinations, such as using a three-on/nine-off rotation in four sections, or a four-on/eight-off rotation in three sections.
“Some people look at CFEMP and think it’s just a watchbill program,” said Cordle. “But it is more than that. A watchbill is just one of the three legs of the stool, which also includes the ship’s routine and the mindset.”
In order to effectively implement a circadian watch rotation, ships and their crews need to build a supporting schedule, which requires a significant change in mindset. Anybody who has served aboard a ship understands that underway (and even inport) operations will come with a lot of change to the planned schedule. Introducing this type of “crew-endurance-based” approach may require revisiting everything from expansions in meal hours, limiting the usage of the 1MC, and having a more flexible training schedule.
“None of the solutions are simple, but they are doable,” said Cordle. “The goal is to minimize disturbances during sleep hours and focusing most major evolutions in the middle of the day. Let folks sleep in or go to bed early so that they are awake and alert on watch. This includes minimizing meetings, training, and announcements during the early morning and evening hours.”
Calling on his experience as a commanding officer, Cordle offers an important lesson to senior leaders in the surface force. He believes shipboard leaders have a responsibility to adopt and implement the mindset of placing self-care and rest as a priority in their personal, day-to-day lives.
“If you work too hard, don’t sleep, don’t eat properly, and don’t exercise, you’re going to be unfit, and there’s going to come a time when you’re the last person between your ship and disaster,” says Cordle. “And you’re going to make a bad decision because you let yourself get in a bad place, and somebody could get hurt or killed. You’ve let the crew down.”
The science is there and the results all point to the critical importance of circadian rhythms and proper sleep cycles. It is often said that Sailors are the most important part of the Navy; this updated instruction is an important step toward creating a healthier, more productive environment for Sailors.
“What we find in the studies is not necessarily that Sailors are sleeping more under this watch rotation, but they’re sleeping at the same time each day,” said Cordle, and this is a huge deal – it is just applied science. “What they like about it is that they can now plan their day. Ships have reported better physical readiness training performance and better morale with circadian-based watchbills.
“This is about reinforcing a mindset and a culture that is people-centered. You would never consciously skip a planned maintenance check on your gear. Well, our daily maintenance check on our body is sleep. Skipping that is just as bad as not maintaining your equipment.”
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