How much sleep did you get last night? Have you ever found yourself nodding off only to jerk awake suddenly from time to time?
We all experience fatigue from time to time. It’s part of living in a fast-paced modern world, where everything in it is speeding up, moving fast. It’s sometimes hard to keep up, and we start shortening our sleep and disrupt our sleep patterns.
So, what is fatigue?
Fatigue is a condition in which you feel exhausted all the time, even if you are well rested. In a work context, fatigue is defined as a state of impairment that includes mental and physical tiredness that reduces a person’s ability to perform their work safely and effectively.
What are the signs and symptoms associated with fatigue?
There are several signs and symptoms associated with fatigue. However, there is no rule that predicts exactly how each person will demonstrate their fatigue. We will all experience the combination of some the following:
• Yawning, eye rubbing, head nodding, long blinks
• sleepiness, including falling asleep against your will (microsleep- Did you know during a 4-second microsleep a car traveling at 100km/hr will travel 111m without any driver control. Microsleep can last approximately four to five seconds),
• reduced alertness, concentration, and memory,
• not remembering driving past landmarks,
• lack of motivation,
• loss of appetite,
• increased procedural gaps,
• digestive problems, and
• increased susceptibility to illness
What are the causes of fatigue within the workplace?
Fatigue can be caused by work-related or non-work-related factors or a combination of both. The main causes of fatigue are both mental and physical factors, such as lifting heavy objects, operating machinery or tools, and performing tasks to require extended focus.
Other factors are long commuting times, working overnight shifts, not having adequate rest during or after shifts, long hours, work environment conditions like dim lighting, extremely hot or cold environment, or noisy conditions play a role in workplace fatigue.
If a worker is fatigued, they quite often cannot focus and pay attention to the task they are performing. They don’t pay attention to the safety requirement of their workplace. This could cause workplace accidents and even deaths as a result.
Industries affected by fatigue
Most industries are affected by fatigue in Australia and overseas, however, some workers are at a higher risk of fatigue E.g. shift workers, night workers, fly-in, fly-out workers, drive in, drive out workers, seasonal workers, on-call and call-back workers, emergency service workers, medical professionals and other health workers.
What are the impacts of fatigue on the safety performance of a workplace?
Fatigue is a substantial safety hazard, and impacts the alertness, productivity, and well-being of the individuals and also impact on the health and safety of those around them.
Within a workplace, fatigue may affect the employee’s ability to concentrate at work. Fatigue can result in a lack of alertness, slower reactions to signals or situations, and affect a worker’s ability to make good decisions. This could cause workplace incidents, increased staff absenteeism, turnover, resulting in reduced performance and productivity at work. This will impact workplaces productivity and profitability. During one of my onsite fatigue management training, one worker had more than thirty microsleeps whilst they were operating their haul truck, in just one shift, whilst being monitored. You can only imagine the carnage these drivers could inflict if just one falls asleep behind the wheel.
How can a workplace help a worker to manage fatigue?
Everyone in the workplace has a work health and safety duty and can help to ensure fatigue doesn’t create a risk to health and safety at work.
Identify factors that may cause fatigue in the workplace via consultation with managers, supervisors and health and safety representatives, this will help businesses to examine work practices, systems of work and worker records. A review of workplace incident data and human resource data helps to find and place control measures including:
• workplace fatigue policy,
• good lighting, comfortable temperatures, and reasonable noise levels,
• shift rotation and change throughout workers shift,
• fatigue management and awareness education and training – implications of fatigue, the importance of sleep, balanced diet and exercise, and alertness,
• shift design and rotation,
• on-site accommodations, and
• facilities where employees can take a nap before they drive home.
Fatigue management responsibility as a worker
Workers have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety and health and make sure their acts or omissions don’t adversely affect the health or safety of others.
Workers can make sure they’re not at risk of fatigue in the workplace. In order to reduce the risks, workers should:
• Comply with fatigue management policy and procedures
• Be part of the consultation and inform their supervisors if they believe they are at risk of fatigue.
• Understand their sleep, and look after their well-being, rest and sleep well
• Seek medical advice and help if you have or are concerned about a health condition
• Fitness for work
• Monitor their level of alertness and concentration while they are at work.
• Look out for signs of fatigue in the people you work with.
Learning about fatigue management, consulting employer, watching for the signs and symptoms, and look out for the signs of fatigue in the people, we can help ourselves, others and in our workplace to reduce the injuries and accidents. In the end, work health and safety is everyone’s responsibility. If an injury happens it affects everyone – the worker, families, friends, colleagues and the company.
We are offering onsite customised fatigue management courses online and elearning across Australia. If you would like to receive information on how we can assist you, contact us, we are here to assist you.