Managing Fatigue in the Workplace

A fatigued worker is equivalent to a drunk worker. Fatigue is a significant problem across NZ workplaces. According to the 2017 Health and Safety Attitudes and Behaviours Survey, 43% of NZ workers stated they worked when overtired from ‘time to time’ or ‘a lot’.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue goes beyond the feeling of just being tired. It is the feeling of extreme exhaustion and has direct influences on people’s physical and mental abilities needed to carry out even a simple task. A few signs of fatigue can include drowsiness, lack of focus, increased mistakes at work, difficulty engaging with others, and mood swings.

Fatigue can be caused by several factors, both in the workplace and in one’s personal life. These can include:

  • Work schedules – Long work hours, irregular work hours and night shifts can all contribute to feeling fatigued.
  • Lack of sleep – Everyone requires specific amount of sleep in order to function properly. It is recommended that adults should get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
  • High workload – High workload is one of the top causes of fatigue. The latest OECD Better Life Index says New Zealand had the ninth-highest percentage of workers working over 50 hours a week – 13.8%. 
  • Environmental conditions – This includes noise, extreme climate conditions, light level and vibration which can all lead to fatigue.

The longer term health effects of fatigue includes high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and anxiety.

How does fatigue affect the workplace?

To work safely, workers must be healthy, alert and engaged in their job. Thus, fatigue is a serious risk that can negatively affect the health and safety of a worker and their workplace.

High levels of fatigue can have a range of undesirable outcomes. Impaired concentration and poor judgement caused by fatigue can lead to an increase in incidents and injuries, particularly when:

  • operating fixed or mobile plant, including driving vehicles
  • undertaking critical tasks that require a high level of concentration
  • undertaking night or shift work when a person would ordinarily be sleeping.

According to OSHA, accidents and injury rates are 30% greater during night shifts, and workers on-the-job 12 hours per day show a 37% increased risk of injury.

Along with the risk of an increase in workplace incidents, fatigue also increases absenteeism and lowers productivity – workers have a 66% rate of lost productivity due to cognitive decline and inability to focus.

How can you manage fatigue in the workplace?

Everyone in the workplace has a responsibility to ensure fatigue does not create a risk to health and safety at work.

PCBUs and Officers have the primary duty to eliminate or minimise the risks that arise, so far as is reasonably practicable. Measures to manage the risks associated with fatigue may vary across different industries due to the nature of the work.

A systematic process to managing fatigue should include:

  • identifying the factors which may cause fatigue in the workplace
  • if necessary, assessing the risks of injury from fatigue
  • controlling risks by implementing the most effective control measures reasonably practicable in the circumstances, and
  • reviewing control measures to ensure they are working as planned.

For instance, ensure work schedules and work load is reasonable. If longer working days are required, consider staggered start and finish times, and/or longer rest breaks (and carefully monitor a worker’s ability to cope).

Workers are also responsible for managing fatigue in and outside of the workplace. Workers should prioritise getting sufficient sleep, recognise the symptoms of fatigue and inform their manager/supervisor if a task is beyond their capacity.

Fatigue can affect anyone. It’s important for employers to raise awareness of the risks associated with fatigue and consult with workers to effectively manage them.

Our GOSH health and safety system offers a way for workers to report fatigue through submitting a simple form. The fatigue reporting form can also be customised to suit your workplace. Contact us now for more information on GOSH and fatigue reporting.

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