Fatigue is a high-risk hazard within the workplace that employers must be constantly aware of and consistently mitigating to ensure it does not compromise worker safety. Fatigue goes beyond a worker feeling a little bit tired at work, as it can result in reduced:
- Ability to make decisions,
- Ability to do complex planning,
- Communication skills,
- Productivity and performance,
- Ability to handle stress,
- Reaction time,
- Ability to recall details, and
- Ability to respond to changes in surroundings or information provided.
These reduced abilities can then severely impact a worker’s ability to perform their jobs in a healthy and safe manner, which can lead to an increase in workplace incidents.
Fatigue many be acute or chronic, with acute fatigue arising from a sudden onset of short-term sleep loss, and chronic fatigue being a long-term state that results from an extended loss of necessary sleep. A sleep debt that has been built up over weeks or months from a reduction or disruption of a normal sleep routine can contribute to chronic fatigue. Fatigue can also be heightened from prolonged mental activity or long periods of stress or anxiety. Boring or repetitive tasks at work can also intensity feelings of fatigue.
While employers cannot monitor or dictate the amount of sleep an employee receives, it is important the workplace is equipped to prevent the risks associated with fatigue and are trained to recognize if a worker is experiencing fatigue.
Should employees be required to work long hours or overtime, employers should consider shift schedules that allow workers to take breaks and do other necessary activities, such as socializing, eating meals, and relaxing. During work hours, the work environment should have good lighting, comfortable temperatures, and reasonable noise levels.
Variety within work tasks is also essential to allow for workers to recharge and reset the brain, thereby preventing fatigue. In particular, those with safety sensitive positions should have task-rotation within their jobs to allow for rest.
Supervisor should be trained to recognize the immediate signs and symptoms of fatigue within their workers, which include:
- Tiredness or sleepiness,
- Memory lapse,
- Difficulty concentrating, and
- Slower reaction times.
Employees are to ensure they are fit for duty when they arrive at the workplace and they are not suffering from fatigue. This is especially important for those in safety sensitive positions. Employees are advised to do the following to maximize their health and alertness:
- Obtain an average of 7.5-8.5 hours of sleep per day.
- Establish regular eating times.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol before bedtime.
Should an employee be fatigued when they arrive for work, they should notify their supervisor immediately. If an employee feels that certain factors at work are increasing feelings of fatigue, they should bring these aspects the attention of a supervisor to determine how they can mitigate fatigue risk.
Employers are advised to create a fatigue management program within the workplace to ensure employees are trained in how to recognize fatigue, its dangers, and how to manage it. This training should then be documented and reviewed periodically to ensure continuous understanding. It is recommended for this program to be developed in collaboration with workers to ensure effectiveness and employee safety against the dangers of fatigue.