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Managing the risks of workplace fatigue

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Workplace fatigue

As one of the biggest contributors to accidents and injuries, fatigue is often overlooked and underestimated. Awareness and understanding of the factors that contribute to the increasing risk of fatigue are critical in allowing us to implement the appropriate control measures. In this blogpost, we take a brief look at how we can identify the various risk factors of fatigue, workers who are most at most risk, safety critical task factors, assessment and control of fatigue risks and monitoring and review of controls to maintain their effectiveness.

Work schedules, job demands, sleep hygiene, environmental conditions and various non-work-related factors can all be attributed to the increased risk of fatigue-related accidents. Identifying these various factors can be simplified by focusing our attention on:

  • Knowing the work area
  • Consulting with workers for feedback
  • Examining work practices, systems, work hours, police and procedures.
  • Reviewing previous hazard/incident reports
  • Obtaining advice and information from relevant experts and research

Due to the nature of their roles, certain workers are more likely to be exposed to the contributing factors of fatigue, placing them at a higher risk. These include:

  • Shift workers
  • Night workers
  • Fly-in, fly-out workers (FIFO)
  • Drive in, drive out workers (DIDO)
  • Seasonal workers
  • On-call and call-back workers
  • Emergency services
  • Medical professionals and other health workers

Further identification of tasks that may cause serious harm in the event of an accident is also critical to effectively implement the necessary control measures. These include tasks such as:

  • Driving and operating high-risk machinery (e.g. cranes, forklifts)
  • Working at heights
  • Medical/surgical procedures and settings
  • Working with hazardous chemicals
  • Confined Space
  • Other hazardous types of work (e.g. electrical)

Assessing the risks once they have been identified allows us to understand:

  • Who is most likely at risk of fatigue and how often they are exposed?
  • The degree of the consequences resulting from fatigue
  • The effectiveness of existing control measures
  • What action should be taken to control the risk of fatigue and how urgently

When possible, implementing control measures that eliminate health and safety risks that emerge from fatigue is the most obvious and effective solution. However, if elimination is not reasonably practicable, aiming to minimise the risk is crucial. Various controls can be effective in risk minimisation; these include but are not limited to:

Work Scheduling – allowing enough sleep and recovery time, developing maximum hours of work policies, required minimum breaks and scheduling safety critical work at low fatigue risk times.

Shift Work and Rosters – structuring shift work and rosters to minimise sequential night shifts, allow consecutive days off for sufficient recovery, decrease demands towards the end of shifts and providing workers with fatigue prevention and management tips. (For a further look at how we can use science to assess the shift and roster risk of a business, see this blog post)

Job Demands – ensuring all machinery and equipment is fit for use, redesigning jobs to limit periods of excessive mental/physical demands, planning for expected and unexpected changes in work demands and encouraging workers to report any fatigue concerns.

Environmental Conditions – avoiding/minimising periods of exposure to physical hazards (e.g. noise, heat, cold, vibration), providing enough ventilation and temperature control in confined spaces and maintaining a well-lit, safe and secure workplace.

Non-work-related Factors – although what workers do outside of work cannot be entirely managed, various controls can be implemented to help avoid conflicts between work and personal life. These may include workplace fatigue policies, consulting workers on fatigue risk and its relation to their health/safety duties and providing enough information, instruction, training and supervision to workers, managers and supervisors.

Once fatigue risks are identified, assessed, and the appropriate control measures are put in place, monitoring and reviewing are critical in ensuring that the implemented controls remain effective. High-risk hazards require more frequent and extensive monitoring and review, with further examination should any of the following occur:

  • A fatigue-related incident
  • Indication of risks not being controlled
  • Changes in tasks, work environment or other work-related processes
  • Development of new technology or available information

Knowing how to effectively identify where and why fatigue risk increases give us the ability to analyse those risks and put the appropriate control measures in place. These measures aim to prevent and minimise the likelihood of fatigue-related accidents and require consistent monitoring and review in order to maintain their effectiveness.

A more detailed look at Safe Work Australia’s, Guide for Managing the Risk of Fatigue at Work is available at the link below.
Safe Work Australia – Guide for Managing the Risk of Fatigue: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/system/files/documents/1702/managing-the-risk-of-fatigue.pdf

For any further enquiries or advice, please feel free to contact Melius Consulting at info@meliusconsulting.com.au or visit our website www.meliusconsulting.com.au

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