When people talk about fatigue, you may think of the feeling of being tired. But fatigue is more complicated and can affect any worker in any occupation or industry, with serious consequences for safety and health. So, what exactly is fatigue? Fatigue is a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion that reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively. Learning the risks of fatigue is key to ensuring a safe work environment.
In this article, you will gain a deeper understanding of the sources of fatigue, the risks for fatigue-related events, and the strategies OLFA recommends managing fatigue in the workplace.
Fatigue can occur because of prolonged mental or physical activity, sleep loss, and/or disruption of the internal body clock. There are many causes of fatigue in the workplace:
- Poor work scheduling
- Timing of shifts
- Insufficient recovery between shifts
- Inadequate rest breaks
- Length of time worked
Some jobs are more prone to developing fatigue. Occupations such as shift or night workers, on-call workers, and emergency service workers are top of mind when discussing fatigue. However, the effect of fatigue on any employee can hurt the organization. Did you know there are direct and indirect costs associated with workplace safety? Recognizing the causes and risks of fatigue in the workplace is crucial to protecting workers from injury and illness. But it also helps lower injury costs.
Good fatigue management in the workplace starts by recognizing fatigue-related risks. Fatigue can reduce alertness, which leads to errors and increase incidents and injuries. Other symptoms of fatigue are:
- slower reaction time
- reduced ability to process information
- memory lapses
- decreased awareness
- lack of attention
- underestimation of risk
- reduced coordination
No matter symptom, fatigue can cause errors and accidents, ill-health and injury, and reduced productivity.
So, what can the workplace do to address fatigue and the risks associated with it?
- Introduce a Specific Policy
Employers and workers should collaborate to develop a policy that addresses and sets limits on working hours, overtime, and shift-swapping to guard against fatigue. But simply implementing a policy is not enough. It is important to create systems to monitor it and enforce it. This may include a robust system of tracking working hours, overtime, shift-swapping, and on-call working.
- Promote Mental Health Support Programs
It is significant to remember that fatigue is linked to mental health. When your body is exhausted, your psychological health is also impacted. You may experience emptiness, an inability to focus, or even a sense of hopelessness. Leadership must promote programs that not only support talking about mental health, but also encourage it. Leaders must be trained to foster these conversations in a humble and empathic way.
- Take Action
Introducing a systematic approach to shift-work schedules is an effective way to address how work is performed. Reviewing workload, increasing breaks, and ensuring adequate sleep time between shifts can improve the health and safety of your team. Yet, there is not a single optimal shift for everyone, so the job type and all tasks involved should be considered. “The way we think about fatigue, productivity, quality, and safety, has to address all categories differently” said Ed Stephens, Senior Lead Investigator at ABB Robotics and Discrete Automation.
Although fatigue is inescapable, there are many ways leaders and employees can combat fatigue in the workplace. Whether implementing a consistent schedule, or introducing a fatigue policy, or simply talking about the effectives of fatigue, no strategy is right or wrong. When fatigue is addressed and recognized, you are already a step towards a safe environment!