Fatigue is a state of mental or physical exhaustion which reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively.  It can negatively affect safety in your workplace by increasing the likelihood of errors occurring, leading to incidents and injuries.

Fatigue generally occurs due to periods of mental or physical activity, sleep loss and/or disruption of a persons internal body clock.

Planning and risk assessment

There is often a stigma associated with speaking up about feeling fatigued at work which can make it challenging to identify. As an employer there are contributing factors you should consider, both work, and non – work related.  These include:

  • Work schedules and shifts (night shifts, overtime, early starts)
  • Job demands (physical, repetitive or monotonous work)
  • Rest periods and sleep
  • Environmental conditions (heat, noise, vibration)
  • Non-work related factors (family, health, other commitments)

Control measures

The control measures you should implement to manage fatigue will vary greatly across workplaces depending on work being undertaken, environmental conditions and factors relating to the individual.  Safe Work Australia has developed a Guide for Managing the Risk of Fatigue at Work which includes guidance on how fatigue should be controlled.

Some of these include:

  • Designing work hours and rosters to allow for sleep and recovery time between shifts
  • Monitoring shift lengths (e.g limit to 12 hour shifts inc overtime or less if night shift or safety critical tasks)
  • Avoid work during periods of extreme temperatures
  • Providing workers with training on fatigue (toolbox talks etc)
  • Avoiding unnecessary night work, excessive travel and early starts.

If fatigue factors are identified, you should have a documented safe system in place to manage the risk.  This can be done through a workplace fatigue policy which should be communicated to your workers.

The policy should include:

  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Maximum shift lengths, weekly hours and rest period requirements
  • Work related travel
  • Control measures for specific tasks, jobs and operations, particularly safety critical tasks (e.g plant operation, working at heights)
  • Checklists and self assessment tools
  • Procedures for reporting fatigue hazards and risks
  • Procedures for managing fatigued workers.

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