FATIGUE STUDY - The Elimination of Humanity’s Greatest Unnecessary Waste by FRANK B. GILBRETH, chapter name THE FATIGUE SURVEY: WHAT IS TO BE DONE


What a Survey Is.

A survey is an attempt to record existing conditions. It gives:

1. A general view.

2. A more particular or intensive study of the various parts of the whole and their relation to one another.

It may include recommendations for improvement, but its primary purpose is to record what actually exists.

The survey is a systematic study of existing conditions. Those making it have always a well-defined plan in mind. It is necessary, in order to maintain a proper balance for the completed survey, to give a properly proportioned representation of what happens, with no element omitted or over-emphasized.

The General Survey and the Fatigue Survey.

The fatigue survey should be a department of the general survey. A description of the apparent causes of fatigue, or of the devices present that eliminate fatigue, can mean little without the accompanying description of the worker, the conditions of the work and the work itself. The fatigue survey might be made without a general survey. From the results, fatigue might be eliminated, or better means for overcoming fatigue provided, but there would be no assurance that the records applied would be efficient, or do lasting good, if the causes of fatigue were not understood. The causes could not be understood without the general survey. The fatigue element receives more emphasis than any other element of the general survey. We look for fatigue first, last, and all the time, but we record with it all the attending circumstances that we can observe or discover.

The Aims of the Fatigue Survey.

The fatigue survey aims:

1. To present an accurate picture of existing conditions from the fatigue standpoint.

2. To enable all interested in fatigue elimination to visualize the problem thoroughly.

3. To divide the problem of fatigue elimination into such working units that it may be possible to attack the problem successfully from the start.

4. To arouse the interest of every member of the organization in fatigue and its elimination.

5. To show the relation between fatigue and activity.

6. To teach every member of the organization to conserve his working powers.

The Time and Place of Making the Survey.

The survey should be made as soon as plans for making it are completed, and before any changes in the actual practice are made. If there is any idea of changing the type of management, it may well be made even before such a change is thoroughly outlined. It is the first step to be taken by any organization which is thinking of introducing the scientific type of management. The entire “plant” should be surveyed. The work should start where there is the most fatigue, and where the greatest amount of good can be done immediately. This, for several reasons; such as:

1. The largest amount of waste can thus be eliminated.

2. The co-operation of the workers will be most quickly gained. This will be true not only of the workers actually studied, but of all of the workers in the organization. They will appreciate the attitude of the new management, and will be glad to help if they can see the actual benefit from the start.

3. The survey maker will become encouraged as he sees his data successfully used.

4. The survey, if made by an amateur, will help him when he attacks more difficult problems.

If the survey maker is an amateur, he had best begin where working conditions most demand betterment. It is simpler to record working conditions than to describe the worker or the method by which the work is done. A really adequate record of a worker requires a knowledge of physiology and psychology. An adequate record of method requires an expert knowledge of motion study. A preliminary record of fatigue of all sorts may be made by an amateur. He had best, however, get his practice in recording working conditions. Moreover, it will be best to observe a worker who is known to be co-operative at the start. The co-operation of the worker is the most important element in getting accurate records. Such workers will also help from the start to suggest or invent devices for eliminating fatigue, if they are started thinking along these lines. Later, one can handle the non-co-operative as one becomes more practised, and there is always the likelihood that, by the time one gets to these at first non-co-operative workers, their attitude will have been changed by the good results and the general sympathy towards the fatigue survey.

The Qualification of the Survey Maker.

The survey maker must be an accurate observer. He must be able to see what the conditions really are, and to describe and record what he sees in simple, clear language that will enable others to understand what he says. The survey may be made by any one of several types of survey maker:

1. The owner of the plant. He will have the most vital interest in the resulting fatigue elimination. No matter who else makes a survey, the owner should examine it closely, or should make one for himself. We have found that, if the owner can be persuaded to take one day of his time to make even a most rapid and superficial fatigue survey of his plant, the result is always of enormous benefit to the work; but, while his interest may be enlisted with a walk through his plant, his zeal will not be obtained until he has actually sat in the various seats and chairs, and actually, personally, tried out the various work places.

2. The survey may be made by some other member of the organization, who is an amateur at the work. The benefits of having a survey maker who is a member of the organization is that he “understands the peculiar and local conditions” thoroughly, and that those who are observed may therefore have more confidence in his work and perhaps may be less apt to resent being observed. The disadvantages are that he will be so well acquainted with and accustomed to seeing the conditions that he will not be apt to note many apparently unimportant details. These may really be important, when one comes to make changes.

3. The survey may be made by an amateur not a member of the organization. The advantage of this is that the observer will be disinterested. The disadvantages are the usual disadvantages of lack of training. There may, also, be some delay in the observed worker’s co-operating with the observer. This is not apt to occur if the survey maker is properly instructed before he begins his work.

4. The survey may be made by an expert. It makes little difference, in this case, whether the expert is, or is not, a member of the organization. In actual practice he seldom is a member of the organization.

There is much saving in time in having an expert survey maker, who will be, in the industries, preferably a motion study expert. From extensive practice he will be able to see possible improvements at the same time that he sees existing conditions. However, he must not let his plans for improvement affect the exactness of his records of the present. On the contrary, these plans will insure that he makes his records of the present detailed and accurate, in order that the progress may be apparent.

Whatever may be the preparation of the survey maker, his chief qualification should be a keen interest and enthusiasm for this work. If a man really wants to eliminate fatigue, and is willing to learn how to do it, he can become a survey maker.

What to Look For.

There are three chief groups of things to look for:

1. The characteristics of the worker, or, as we have called them, “variables of the worker.”

2. The characteristics of the working conditions,—“the variables of the surroundings, equipments, and tools.”

3. The characteristics of the methods of work; that is, “the variables of the motions.”[3]

First, in describing the worker, there are several possible methods of obtaining valuable information. One is by observing him. A second is by talking with him. Before using either of these, it is necessary to see what records of him are already in the hands of the management. There will probably be some information in the employment bureau, if an employment bureau exists; if not, the man who hired him may have some data concerning him. Usually this will save the worker’s time in answering questions. It is well to know as much as possible about the worker’s life history and home conditions,—this especially that one may understand whether he goes to work refreshed or tired in the morning.

The procedure may be as follows:

1. Record the man’s name, age, birthplace, preparation, experience, and fitness. These last will all be a help in determining the percentage of fatigue.

2. Record the man’s physical characteristics, as far as can be observed; such as, size, strength, skill, strong points, and weak points.

3. Record, as closely as possible, the man’s behaviour, as indicating his mental condition. To be specific, note whether he seems interested in the work. Note his habits of doing the work,—whether he does the work the same way every time, or whether he varies in his methods. Note his degree of ability to learn quickly. Note his power of concentrating attention. Note his degree of contentment with the work.

The degree of detail with which this notation may be made by an amateur doing the work depends largely upon his training in psychology.

Second, in recording working conditions:

1. Record those things that affect all workers in the group. These are the length of working day, condition of lighting, heating, cooling, and ventilating; fire protection; safety protection as it affects all,—this to include protection from dust, lint, or any substance which might affect health.

2. Record the conditions that affect the individual worker:—places of the work; the work bench or table or other device for holding the work; the chair, foot rails or rests, or other device for affording rest to the body or some part of the body; the material worked on and its placing; the tools or other devices by which the work is done; the clothing of the worker.

3. Record the results of the work:—the average amount of output; the hours of the working day when most fatigue seems to exist. Record which conditions observed are the result of work having been done by the management, and which are the result of work having been done by the individual worker.

If a general appearance of fatigue seems to occur at any time, make special notes of all attending conditions of every kind. Note anything that is particularly good or particularly bad.

Third, little can be done at this stage by the amateur survey maker in recording the variables of the methods, and in making motion analysis charts. He may, however, make notes of methods that seem to him unusual or efficient. For example, if he observes two workers who seem physically much the same, and who have practically identical surroundings, and finds that one of these accomplishes more than the other, or is less fatigued, the difference is likely to lie in the motions or the methods used. These should be carefully noted. Such data as these will prove of value in the intensive studies of motions to be undertaken later.

Variables that Affect Fatigue.

We included in “Motion Study,”[4] a list of forty-two variables that affect motions. The list we use consists of one hundred and nineteen. We feel that our list is by no means complete. It is necessary only to note here that every possible change in the work, the worker, or the method has its effect upon the fatigue. This need not act as a deterrent from making changes. It need only act as a warning that no change made without a thorough consideration of every element of the problem can be of permanent value.

The Survey Record Sheet.

The survey maker will do well to list all of the things, which he intends to look for, upon one sheet, which he may use as a tentative record sheet. Such a sheet will prove itself an admirable record of how far advanced the organization is in fatigue elimination. The survey maker in any particular plant may modify it to suit individual conditions.

The making of such a record sheet is most stimulating to the survey maker. He should make a collection of all the different survey sheets obtainable, even though used in the social or educational fields. He should be required to make at least a tentative sheet of his own. Through his attempts to do this, he will come, as in almost no other way, to a realization of the importance of the problem that is before him.

Survey Photographs.

A photograph is one of the most satisfactory survey records. It is not always easy to get such a photograph. In the first place the survey maker is not sure what should be photographed. In the second place the worker is not always eager that he or his work place should be photographed. This is even more true of the management than of the men. Some managers are not willing to allow their work places to be photographed, when they realize that such photographs will live as “before and after” records. Where photographs can be taken, they are the ideal records, in that they are accurate, detailed, unprejudiced, easily understood, easily preserved, and constantly available. We have found the photograph the most valuable of records, and have used it continuously since 1892. On every side we find that scientists are more and more realizing the importance of the photograph record. A trained photographer often has the desirable qualities to become an admirable survey maker. The motion picture film makes it possible to record activity as well as rest.

Making the Survey Serviceable.

Such photographs form an important element in making the survey serviceable. The survey is an admirable record to use after improvements have been made, to show exactly what the trend of progress has been. It is, however, most important, as furnishing the working data from which the actual improvements are made immediately. To be serviceable, then, the survey must do certain things:

1. It must make it possible for any one studying it actually to realize existing conditions. It is apparent what a help the photographs are in thus visualizing the problem.

2. It must emphasize those conditions that require immediate and great improvement. These can be shown most plainly by photographs, but it must be remembered that a photograph without a proper written explanation often means but a small portion of what it should to a man who has not himself seen the conditions.

3. It must be in such form that it can be easily followed or studied. This will be assured if the plan has been properly made, and if the plan outlined has been consistently followed.

The observations should be grouped. The groups should be put under appropriate headings. The order should be excellent. It will help greatly if partial and final summaries are included.

The amateur will do best to put all of his recommendations for changes at the close of the survey. Such recommendations should certainly be included. The survey maker should note the improvements that occur to him while making the survey. This he may do on the regular survey blank, but when writing up the survey, he should put his suggested improvements in a separate place, for the following reasons: His suggestions may be good, but may be only a few of possible suggestions. Reading them with the survey may prevent the reader from thinking out suggestions of his own. Again, the suggestions, while good, may be obvious, in which case the reader might consider the entire survey a record of obvious facts, which, therefore, is of little value; in which case, while it is well to record them, it is seldom advisable to include them in the body of the survey. The reader may lose interest because of the suggestions, and may fail to realize the value of the record itself.

Another means of making the survey serviceable is to pay strict attention to the style. This should be the extreme of simplicity and clearness. Use short, familiar, and necessary words. Use short sentences requiring no punctuation except the period. In fact, wherever possible, use a printed form, and write in the fewest possible words that can include a simple, definite, and complete description. Wherever possible, make the survey so interesting that it will hold the attention without effort. This has been done, and can always be done. Photographs, especially stereoscopic photographs, are of great assistance; so are charts, or graphs, illustrating the results of the observation; and tables that will show facts, recapitulations, and tendencies, at a glance.

The data of the survey may be written up by the survey maker, if he is clever at such work; if he is not, it had better be written up by some one to whom he explains it, and who is naturally a clever writer.

The survey in proper form can be used as a force to arouse interest in fatigue elimination throughout the entire organization. It must be put in the most attractive form possible. As an illustration of the possibilities in making dry material interesting, study the farmers’ bulletins used by the national government and various State governments, especially the bulletins of Kansas and Wisconsin.

It is a courageous organization that would consent to making its original fatigue survey public. However, the survey should certainly be in the hands of every member of the organization who desires to see it. It will be recognized that the survey is the starting point for making improvements in the elimination of unnecessary fatigue. Too little is often done to take the workers into the confidence of the management. The fatigue survey might well act as a starting point in this direction; therefore, if not the entire survey, it is certain the examples worthy to be copied should be freely circulated. The efficiently, specially-clothed worker, the excellent arrangement of tools, the best arranged work place,—photographs and descriptions of these might be posted to excellent advantage.

After all, the real aim of the survey is to be serviceable. It will be most serviceable when it is used by the greatest number of individuals, and it will be chiefly serviceable in that it stimulates them to do something definite to improve conditions. It must suggest what is to be done, and where it is to be done. As to when the improvements are to be made, there are certain things that can be done immediately,—as soon as existing conditions are understood. Our next task is to show what these are, in order that the stimulated organization may expend its energy for the greatest amount of permanent good to the greatest number.


The fatigue survey is a record of present conditions and practice, that endeavours to show particularly and in detail where and when fatigue exists. This record contains a description of all the attending circumstances. It is to be in such form that it may be easily read and understood. By studying it, any one interested may learn where fatigue exists, and may receive suggestions as to how it may be prevented, eliminated, or remedied.


[3] See “Motion Study,” pages 6 and 7.

[4] D. Van Nostrand Co., 25 Park Place, New York City.