Fatigue in the workplace

As we proceed well into the throes of winter it’s that time of year where everyone can begin to feel run down, sluggish and not on top of their game. But it’s important for workplaces to keep an eye on their staff to ensure that the run-down feeling isn’t just ‘winter blues’.

Workplace fatigue is a health and safety risk which employers have a responsibility for minimising. This is difficult when fatigue can be easily mistaken for the flu.

Fatigue symptoms include feeling constantly tired, forgetfulness, an inability to concentrate, a ‘sluggish’ feeling, inability to concentrate, feeling drowsy, headaches, dizziness, and a need for extended sleep during days off work.

We thought it timely to highlight five key strategies that workplaces can implement to help reduce the risk of fatigue. These include:

a. Managing work schedules:
i. Ensuring workers taking regular, quality rest breaks during the day.
ii. Making sure working hours are not unnecessarily long.
iii. Scheduling tasks suitably throughout a work period. It has been established that, for most people, a lull in productivity may occur between 3.00 am and 5.00 am, and between 3.00 pm and 5.00 pm.
iv. Monitoring and placing limits around shift swapping and on-call duties.

b. Supporting sleep:
i. Designing rosters to allow for good sleep opportunities and recovery between workdays/shifts. Adults typically need between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep a night.
ii. Acknowledging and reinforcing the importance of sleep.

c. Improving workplace or environmental conditions:
i. Providing drinking water for staff.
ii. Avoid employees working during periods of extreme temperature or minimise exposure through job rotation.
iii. Ensuring plant, machinery and equipment is fit for purpose.
iv. Making sure workloads are manageable and avoid impractical deadlines.
v. Acknowledging that fatigue is not just caused by physical work.

d. Supporting emotional wellbeing:
i. Where possible, workplaces should be aware of personal circumstances that affect their workers and provide support.
ii. Creating a positive work environment with good supervision and/or mentoring.

e. Developing a workplace fatigue policy:
i. This policy should include information about maximum shift length and average weekly hours, work-related travel, procedures for reporting fatigue risks, and procedures for managing fatigued workers.
ii. It can also create a framework for investigating incidents where fatigue may be involved, and training new workers on fatigue management.

If your normally chipper employee has glazed eyes, forgets your name, and keeps missing their shots into the wastepaper bin (assuming their aim was excellent previously) then they may be suffering from fatigue…

There is no quick fix to fatigue, the only way to recover is sleep.

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