Workplace fatigue: will you spot the warning signs in time?
 
  • Have you ever felt tired turning up to work, even after a good night’s sleep?
  • Do you find yourself running on empty, unable to fully recharge?
  • Maybe you’ve struggled to find motivation, or can’t seem to stay focused?
 
If you answered yes to some of these questions, perhaps you’ve experienced fatigue.
 
Fatigue is so much more than just feeling tired. It can leave us feeling emotionally flat and physically unwell. Fatigue is also a known risk factor in workplace accidents, affecting our ability to think clearly, pay attention and react in a timely way to hazards. 
 
Fatigue can be particularly dangerous in some industries - like mining and construction, transport and logistics and healthcare - where concentration and care are crucial. Some examples of activities where fatigue presents considerable risk, include: operating machinery; driving vehicles; working at heights; and working with hazardous substances and electricity
 
What causes fatigue?
 
Fatigue can be caused by a combination of many factors.
 
  • Mental health issues like stress, anxiety and depression
  • Long working hours, tight deadlines and over-exertion
  • Extremely hot or cold working conditions
  • Shift work and irregular hours (the risk of injury on night shifts is 30% higher than day shifts)
  • Travel (particularly across time zones)
  • Many medical conditions can also cause fatigue, like diabetes, hypothyroidism and anaemia.
 
Spot the warning signs
 

A wide range of symptoms can be attributed to fatigue - some may surprise you:
 
Physical
 
•           Chronic and whole body tiredness
•           Stiff shoulders and muscle weakness
•           Slower reflexes and responses
•           Dizziness, headaches
•           Impaired hand-eye coordination
•           Poor immunity
•           Blurry / deteriorating vision
•           Loss of appetite
 
Mental / Emotional
 
•           Difficulty concentrating
•           Exhaustion – even after sleeping
•           Impaired decision-making
•           Inability to relax
•           Volatile moods and irritability
•           Hallucinations
•           Boredom
•           Low motivation

 
Managing fatigue at work

 
As employers it is important to prevent and manage fatigue - for the safety and wellbeing of the workforce, and to reduce the impact fatigue can have on business performance.
 
  • In physically demanding roles, allow for rest breaks and provide facilities for workers to recoup.
 
  • For shift workers set appropriate length shifts, allow adequate breaks between shifts, and where possible push back early starts.
 
  • Ensure drivers have realistic delivery schedules, safe driving hours and enforce regular breaks on long-haul routes.
 
  • Always set reasonable deadlines and performance targets to reduce stress and anxiety, and give all staff access to HR support services. 
 
  • In all industries, communication is an important strategy for managing workplace fatigue. Safety communication around the risks and warning signs can help people to recognise fatigue in themselves and others. Good internal communication in general can also reduce the feelings of uncertainty and stress throughout the workforce that can lead to fatigue.
 
Encouraging the right behaviours at home
 

Fatigue can have a significant impact on our performance at work, but to resolve this issue we must encourage people to address the symptoms and causes at home too. Sleep is a good place to start.
 
Sleep is the body’s way of naturally healing and restoring our physical and mental wellbeing – it can be a major factor in fatigue. Ultimately the length and quality of sleep, and the amount of time that passes between sleeps will determine how effective sleep is.
 
Whilst sleep is an obvious remedy, it is only part of the solution.
 
  • Being physically active can have a profound effect on our overall health and wellbeing – reducing stress, and improving sleep. Exercise has also proven to boost energy levels in people suffering from fatigue.
 
  • Good nutrition can also help to reduce the symptoms of fatigue. We should eat often throughout the day, aiming for a balanced diet to maintain energy levels. Avoid over consumption of high fat, high sugar and high salt foods, and too much caffeine – which only provides temporary energy. Caffeine too close to bed can also stimulate the nervous system and lead to insomnia.
 
  • It’s a common misconception that alcohol can help us to sleep. Although we may fall asleep quickly after a drink, later in the night it disturbs our natural sleep patterns and reduces the quality of our slumber.
 
  • Home is also a great place for introducing stress-reduction techniques like meditation, lighting a candle, taking a long bath or finding ways to laugh.

 
To find out more, check out Safe Work Australia’s Guide for Managing the Risk of Fatigue at Work

Fatigue is an important talking point and a vital part of any safety strategy to improve the health, safety and performance of the workforce. Is fatigue an issue in your industry? What strategies do you

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