You walk through the door after a demanding day at work, and while the evenings are warming up, you’re perfectly content chilling out. You sit down to read a book or watch a movie, but ten minutes in and your eyelids are drooping, heavy under the weight of the day. Suddenly it is 2am and your partner or perhaps pet, is waking you up wondering why you’re not in bed.
Being tired is helpful, it helps us regulate our sleep and helps us to fall asleep and it encourages us to rest, recover and rebuild; but fatigue is not the same as being tired. Fatigue is a physical condition that can occur due to prolonged exertion, sleep loss and/or disruption of the internal body clock. As an employee develops fatigue they are increasing the risk of incident and injury for both themselves and all other employees. Managing employee fatigue is not only important for the health of the organisation but vital for the health of the employee as fatigue can cause heart disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, depression and anxiety, along with many other health complications.
Fly-in Fly-out (FIFO) workers often work long hours due to both job design and culture.
In order to prevent fatigue, a common arrangement is to allow recovery through a ‘circadian adjustment’ period of about two-three days. If the workload is not reduced during this time, the effects of fatigue can accumulate, potentially carrying over to future journeys. Fatigue is a common risk type within remote workplaces.
Driver fatigue has been identified with remote workers who drive trucks or other vehicles. Employees who drive long distances regularly also may display higher levels of chronic fatigue, which may be compounded by isolation and frustration through lack of communication.
Fatigue, like any other hazard, needs to be managed and the risks needs to be understood rather than underestimated.
Who is responsible for fatigue management?
Persons conducting a business or undertakings (PCBU) and workers both have the responsibility to ensure the health and safety of people at work and all those who may be affected. The work environment is required to maintain healthy, safe and without risks to the health of workers, or others, and PCBUs should proactively identify, assess, control and monitor tasks or workplace environments that present a risk to remote or isolated workers.
Workers are also responsible for the management of fatigue in the workplace, and should report any health and safety issues as soon as possible, such as unexpected fatigue.
In order to be proactive in managing risk within the work environment PCBUs must identify risks, such as whether fatigue is likely to increase due to the nature of the work, i.e. long hours driving a vehicle or operating machinery. Environmental stressors such as elevated sound or overcrowding are known to often multiply the effect on fatigue and performance.
Risk factors, symptoms and mitigating factors of fatigue
Many risk factors, both work and life-style related, can cause fatigue. These include:
- Too little / poor quality sleep
- Working at times you would normally be asleep
- Travel to a different time zone and/or climate
- Travelling long distances
- Carrying out mentally or physically demanding activities
- Poor nutrition and inadequate hydration
- Effects of alcohol and other drugs
- Driver fatigue
Signs and symptoms:
- Excessive yawning or falling asleep at work
- Short term memory problems / inability to concentrate
- Noticeably reduced capacity to engage in effective interpersonal communication
- Impaired decision-making and judgement
- Reduced hand-eye coordination or slow reflexes
- Other changes in behaviour, e.g. repeatedly arriving late
- Increased rate of unplanned absence
Symptoms not obvious to others:
- Feeling drowsy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Blurred vision or impaired visual perception
- A need for extended sleep during days off work
Possible ways to mitigate the causes of fatigue:
- Ensure employees have prescribed break to allow adequate down time
- Avoid night shift work into the early hours of the morning
- Allow adequate time for the body clock to adjust to different time zones before commencing work
- Ensure good supply of drinking water
- Have a zero alcohol policy at work
- Introduce a buddy system
- Field Work
Fatigue management is difficult. JESI adds a level of protection to your staff and your organisation.