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Portrait of Dr. Ranjana Mehta
Over the past five years, Dr. Ranjana Mehta has worked to develop and strengthen the Fatigue Risk Assessment and Management in high-risk Environments (FRAME) Initiative, a collaborative academic-industry effort targeting oil and gas and petrochemical environments. | Image: Texas A&M Engineering
Dr. Ranjana Mehta, associate professor in the Wm Michael Barnes ’64 Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Texas A&M University, was selected for one of six Early-Career Research Fellowships for the Offshore Energy Safety track of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s (NASEM) Gulf Research Program.
 
“I am deeply humbled and honored to have been selected as a NASEM Gulf Research Early-Career Research fellow. I am passionate about addressing worker fatigue challenges in the offshore energy work contexts,” Mehta said.
 
This fellowship supports emerging scientific leaders in taking on research projects that have not been tested or explored and in pursuing unique collaboration projects pertaining to offshore energy operations/safety and the well-being of coastal communities and ecosystems.
 
Fellows participate in a two-year program beginning Jan. 1 to contribute to the advancement of safer, more reliable and more efficient offshore energy operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
 
Fatigue is a critical risk factor for injuries and fatalities and can cost employers more than $136 billion in lost productivity and health care costs. The Chemical Safety Board found fatigue to likely be a contributing factor in both the BP Texas City Refinery Explosion in 2005 and the drilling rig explosion and fire at the Macondo well five years later. 
 
“The critical role fatigue plays, not only toward operator well-being but also in their decision-making capabilities, is gaining rapid attention in offshore energy communities. One of the major gaps in the documentation and subsequent management of systemic risk in offshore activities is the lack of understanding of how fatigue vulnerabilities impact processes and people differently,” Mehta said. “A second major gap is the lack of tools for industry to assess these fatigue vulnerabilities feasibly and sustainably. The third major gap is to close the loop and develop evidence-driven fatigue management strategies that have a direct impact on reducing systemic risks.” 
 
Over the past five years, Mehta has worked to develop and strengthen the Fatigue Risk Assessment and Management in high-risk Environments (FRAME) Initiative, a collaborative academic-industry effort targeting oil and gas and petrochemical environments. These efforts have been funded by the NASEM Gulf Research Program and the Ocean Energy Safety Institute, with seed funds from the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M.
 
The goal behind the FRAME initiative is to develop usable and effective measures of fatigue specifically for high-risk industrial workers in order to mitigate fatigue as a root cause of incidents in oil and gas. To date, Mehta has developed a FRAME survey that is currently being validated in onshore and offshore oil rig environments. The survey was originally developed to address the barriers of fatigue monitoring in offshore environments where existing tools to monitor fatigue, such as clinical surveys or wearable devices, are not practical for offshore workers and environments.
 
In addition to the FRAME survey, Mehta and her colleagues are evaluating the use of smart device-based apps to predict fatigue-related declines in alertness, vigilance, decision making and risk-taking. Her team has developed a vigilance and alertness app in iOS and Android that has been tested in both onshore and offshore environments.
 
Mehta aims to take a use-inspired basic research approach for the next two years, which allows for fundamental research to understand how fatigue vulnerabilities impact offshore workers’ decision-making and coordination capabilities, as well as applied research efforts that translate these findings effectively and meaningfully into management and mitigation strategies for industries to successfully adopt.
 
“This fellowship also allows me formal mentorship, and I am honored that Dr. Camille Peres — a human factors expert in the petrochemical and oil and gas industries — to mentor me on understanding and navigating industry dynamics with offshore safety,” Mehta said.
 
About the program
The foundation for the Gulf Research Program arose out of the settlement language between BP and Transocean succeeding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. The National Academy of Science (NAS) created this program to focus specifically on human health, environmental protection, and offshore research extraction.
 
NAS was established by Congress in 1863 during the Lincoln Administration to provide advice “outside of the government” and tap into the nation’s emerging scientific community.