What is fitness for work?
The concept of fitness for work is broad and relates to the capacity of a worker to do their role or specific job activities safely and productively. This is separate to competency.
Fitness for work deals with individual factors, including:
- medical fitness (i.e. physical health and functional capacity)
- mental health and wellbeing
- alcohol and other drug use.
Organisations should assess if individuals are able to safely complete their specific work-related activities. This means taking into consideration the person's functional capacity, potential impact of any medical conditions they may have, and external factors such as the nature of the work and working environment.
What causes fatigue?
Fatigue can be caused by many factors, both in and out of the workplace. It is a significant human and organisational factor that needs to be managed properly.
Fatigue impacts on many of the abilities we rely on to ensure the safety of all individuals in the workplace. It impairs:
- ability to process information
- decision-making and judgement
- concentration and memory
- risk perception
- reactions to changes in a situation
- physical coordination
As a result, fatigue can lead to errors, accidents, ill-health and injury. It has been identified as a root cause of some major accidents, for example, Texas City and Exxon Valdez.
Fatigue risk management needs to address:
- working hours – e.g. average weekly hours, shift length and rotation
- work demands – e.g. repetitive work, work with high physical/mental demands
- extended exposure to environmental conditions – e.g. noise, extreme temperature, vibration
- lifestyle factors – e.g. amount and quality of sleep, recent illness or injury.
Risk factors for fatigue may be interrelated and can be cumulative. Both employers and workers have a role to play in making sure any risks associated with fatigue are minimised.
In consultation with workers, employers must develop control measures to address the potential risk of fatigue arising from the work and work environment. This should include adequate supervision and competency in managing worker fatigue, procedures for fatigue management and provision of information and training about fatigue to workers.
When is medical fitness important?
In order to meet their duty of care and protect workers from hazards, employers need to be aware of the physical requirements associated with each of the tasks that workers are required to perform.
Understanding the physical requirements of each job allows an employer to:
- identify and manage risks associated with the role
- employ individuals who are likely to be able to meet the physical requirements of the job without injuring themselves
- develop return to work programs for individuals returning to work after physical injury or illness.
- Develop job descriptions for each position within the organisation, including details of specific functional requirements of physical tasks.
- Analyse functional requirements of all physical tasks required of people on site and manage associated hazards in accordance with the hierarchy of control.
- Conduct functional capacity assessments of individuals prior to employment and at regular intervals to monitor for change.
- Promote early reporting of all physical injuries that occur on site and off site so that the workplace can make necessary modifications to job design or environment in order to prevent exacerbation of injuries.
- Engage health professionals to assist with return to work programs following physical injury.
- Identify ways to modify job requirements in order to:
- assist in early return to work
- avoid more complex return to work programs
- prevent the development of secondary mental health issues associated with prolonged time away from work.
Mental health and wellbeing
Mental health refers to the condition of an individual with regard to their psychological and emotional wellbeing.
In the same way that physical injury or ill-health can impact on somebody’s ability to function at work, compromised mental health can do the same. Approaching the management of mental health at work can be done following similar procedures to those used to manage physical health with provisions for prevention, intervention and recovery.
Remember that work is good for overall mental health and wellbeing and that individuals with mental health issues or diagnoses may still be able to do their jobs. When it comes to decisions about the management of mental health issues, it is important to consult with the relevant individual and mental health professionals.
For guidance, resources and tools on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, visit the Department's Mentally Healthy Workplaces Online Hub.
- Identify and manage psychosocial hazards within the workplace, including those associated with job design, fatigue management, reporting, etc.
- Educate the workforce on what psychosocial hazards are so that they can be prevented, reported and managed.
- Adopt a culture of respect when it comes to interpersonal communication: bullying and aggression are not acceptable.
- Ensure that the injury and incident reporting processes can be used for reporting mental health issues as well as physical issues.
- Provide means by which workers can be proactive in caring for their mental health. This may include workplace mental health initiatives and/or promotion of Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services.
- Recognise that at least half of the population experiences difficulty with their mental health at some point in their life, making it relevant to every workplace.
- Ensure that your return to work program accommodates those returning to work after mental health issues, not just physical health issues. The process can be very similar.
- Conduct functional capacity assessments or job demands analyses on each position within the organisation to assist with return to work programs and graduated return to work requirements.
- Make allowances for mental health evacuation as well as physical health evacuation within emergency response procedures.
- Provide multiple channels for reporting within the workforce (e.g. supervisors and peer supporters).
- Develop emergency management plans that take into consideration psychological impact of critical incidents for people directly and indirectly involved.
- Identify resources that you can consult with when you are unsure about anything to do with mental health. Increasing confidence and knowledge in this area will only happen through collaboration.
Alcohol and other drugs
Being under the influence of alcohol or other drugs can impair an individual’s ability to do their job safely, thereby putting themselves and others at higher risk of accidents or incidents.
Some basics to consider to address the issue of alcohol and drugs in the workplace are:
- developing a policy that clearly details the organisation’s expectations about alcohol and drugs in the workplace
- establishing a process to support workers whose alcohol or drug use impinges on workplace policies and procedures
- implementing screening and testing – pre-employment, routine checks, in specific circumstances, to monitor a problem
- developing a process for identifying and addressing drug or alcohol use that contravenes workplace policies and procedures
- educating workers on the effects of alcohol and drugs on safety in the workplace.
Mines Safety Bulletin No 167 – Adequate assessment of fitness for work
These resources by DMIRS cover various aspects of fitness for work, including factors involved in determining fitness for work, general duty of care and requirements for assessing fitness for work in mining operations.
Guidance about preventing and managing fatigue
Guide for managing the risk of fatigue at work
Working hours - Code of practice
These resources by DMIRS and SafeWork Australia describe the various risk factors for fatigue and provide practical solutions to manage fatigue in the workplace.
Mentally healthy workplaces for fly-in fly-out workers in the resources and construction sectors – Code of practice
This code of practice and accompanying webpages by DMIRS helps organisations develop and maintain mentally healthy workplaces. Topics discussed include employer and worker responsibilities, psychosocial hazards and risk factors, risk management for psychosocial hazards and risks, and leading a mentally healthy workplace.
Guidance about alcohol and other drugs
These resources by DMIRS and AlchoholThinkAgain cover various aspects of managing alcohol and drug use in the workplace, including legislative requirements under the OSH Act and MSI Act, effects of alcohol use, duty of care, and developing alcohol and other drugs policies and procedures.