What is fatigue?
Fatigue in a work context is more than feeling tired and drowsy. It is a state of mental or physical exhaustion (or both) that reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively.
Symptoms of fatigue include:
- slower reactions
- reduced ability to process information
- memory lapses
- decreased awareness
- lack of attention
- reduced ability to identify and calculate risk
- reduced coordination
- changes in behaviour (e.g. arriving late for work).
Why is fatigue a problem in the workplace
Fatigue can result in:
- errors and accidents
- ill-health and injury
- reduced productivity
- low team morale.
What can contribute to fatigue?
Fatigue can be caused by factors that are work related, not related to work, or a combination of both. The effects can accumulate over time.
Fatigue may result from prolonged or intense mental or physical activity, sleep loss or extended wakefulness, or disruption of a person’s body clock (e.g. through shift work). It is also related to workload because workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.
What can be done about fatigue?
Both the employer and worker have responsibilities to manage the risks from fatigue.
Employers should conduct a risk assessment that takes into account the fatigue risk factors relevant to their operation and develop a fatigue management plan.
The fatigue management plan should aim to maintain alertness and guard against fatigue.
Workers need to take responsibility for their own health and safety by adhering to relevant policies and procedures outlined in the fatigue management plan.
The toolbox presentations listed below provide strategies and links to useful documents on fatigue and management strategies.
Please refer to the following links:
Worksafe has developed a suite of information about managing fatigue in the workplace, particularly in relation to driver fatigue.
Safe Work Australia has guidance for general industry on preventing and managing fatigue, as well as a code of practice on managing the work environment and facilities.
The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries’ Mine Safety program has a package of fatigue resources for the mining and extractive industry.
The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced a briefing note on fatigue and management that is a useful source of information.
The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a collection of guidance on human factors, including fatigue and shift work.
The UK Energy Institute has a collection of guidance on human factors, including fatigue and shift work.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has an online site dedicated to fatigue risk management. The tools and information available include a presentation on measuring fatigue.
Harvard Medical School has published some useful information about sleep in an article on repaying your sleep debt.
The Sleep Health Foundation is a national organisation devoted to education, advocacy and supporting research into sleep and its disorders. It has a series of fact sheets on sleep-related topics.