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Fatigue in the workplace – How can it affect you? What are the causes? and how can it be managed?

A high number of workplace incidents are fatigue-related. Someone who is working whilst fatigued not only poses a risk to themselves but can compromise the safety of their coworkers and the efficiency of the organisation. It is a common issue that many battle with daily, that is why it is important to be aware of […]

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A high number of workplace incidents are fatigue-related. Someone who is working whilst fatigued not only poses a risk to themselves but can compromise the safety of their coworkers and the efficiency of the organisation. It is a common issue that many battle with daily, that is why it is important to be aware of how it can affect your body, what can cause it and how you can manage it.

What is fatigue?

Safe Work Australia states that work-related fatigue is more than feeling drowsy or tired it is mental and/or physical exhaustion that reduces your ability to perform your work safely and effectively. Fatigue is described as either acute or chronic:

Acute is usually a short-lived period of fatigue that is rectified when sufficient sleep is undertaken.

Chronic is ongoing and constant feelings of tiredness that is not relieved with adequate sleep periods. If symptoms of fatigue persist for more than 6 months it is considered chronic.

Symptoms of fatigue

The symptoms of fatigue can vary from person to person however the most common symptoms include:

  1. Tiredness,
  2. Easily irritable
  3. Loss of appetite
  4. Microsleeps
  5. Depression
  6. Headaches
  7. Dizziness
  8. Muscle and body aches
  9. Clouded judgement/poor concentration
  10. Low motivation
  11. Slow hand-eye coordination and reflexes

Causes of Fatigue

Fatigue in the workplace can happen for various reasons, here are the most common causes:

  1. Excessive physical or mental activity
  2. Travelling
  3. Long hours/shifts
  4. Shift work
  5. Excessive heat or cold working environment
  6. Sleep loss
  7. High stress
  8. Insufficient breaks

Recognising the causes of fatigue within the workplace and putting appropriate measures in place can help increase productivity and reduce incidents.

How to manage workplace fatigue

Employers

Employers need to implement strategies to reduce the risk of fatigue within the workplace. They need to address shortcomings and rectify them to keep their staff safe and to prevent accidents from happening. Solutions such as a Fatigue Risk Management System are designed to improve work-life balance, workload, and shift work. Employers should provide training and education on the fatigue policies and reporting fatigue-related incidents or near misses should be encouraged. Staff need to have adequate time away from work to rest and recuperate before their next shift.

Employees

Employees play a key role in managing their fatigue. Ways to manage fatigue include, getting more sleep especially when a long stretch of shifts has been worked, eating healthy and staying active. Watching out for signs of fatigue and taking breaks when designated. Staff must follow the workplace fatigue policies and monitor their fatigue as well as watch for signs of coworkers experiencing fatigue. Staff need to manage health conditions so ensure it doesn’t impair their work.

How does fatigue affect you in the workplace? 

Fatigue reduces productivity within the workplace, some implications include decreased ability to;

  1. Handle stress effectively
  2. Decision make and communicate adequately
  3. Pay attention and relay details
  4. Perform and work productively
  5. Stay alert and awake
  6. Respond and react
  7. Memory function

Inability to manage the above side effects of fatigue can have dangerous consequences in the workplace, such as:

  1. Poor judgement
  2. Increased errors
  3. Accidents
  4. Injuries
  5. Risk-taking/cutting corners
  6. A higher number of absentees, sick leave and employee changes
  7. In serious cases, death

Who is most at risk?

Whilst every industry is at risk of workers fatigue some are more prone than others. Dangerous professions such as transportation, mining, construction, health care and manufacturing must have extra fatigue preventative strategies in place. They must be regularly monitored and managed. Inadequate fatigue measures can have disastrous impacts and making a minor mistake in a high-risk working environment can cause serious injury or death.

Drivers make up the highest number of fatigue-related deaths. To prevent getting drowsy they should take regular rest stops, have sufficient sleep before driving and not drive for more than 8 to 10 hours in a day. Driving whilst tired poses a major risk to only themselves but other people on the road. As well as following the companies procedures, drivers need to be proactive about their fatigue and watch for signs of tiredness and stop as soon as they feel sleepy. Research shows those who have not slept for 17 hours straight have the same driving performance as someone that has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05g/100ml. For people who have not slept for 24 hours, they have the same level of impairment as a person who has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1g/100ml which makes them 7 times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Other industries highly affected by fatigue are shift workers, those who conduct monotonous and repetitive tasks, those with existing medical conditions such as sleep apnoea, individuals taking medications, and caregivers of young children.

Workplace fatigue is a serious health concern that is often overlooked. Employers have a duty of care to their staff to provide a safe and healthy working environment. It is not only beneficial to their employee’s wellbeing but increases productivity and work efficacy.

If you have fallen victim to a fatigue-related incident at work and believe it is linked to your working conditions, give our expert legal team at South East Injury Lawyers call, you may be entitled to compensation.

Reference: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/fatigue

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