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Written by
on 09 January 2017


Fatigue in the Workplace is no Snoozing Matter!

Think feeling tired and fatigued at work is just all part of the usual working day?

But while tiredness is easy to trivialise, there’s a lot more to it than that. Fatigue can actually pose a serious health and safety risk in the workplace.

Did you know that it costs the UK up to £240 million a year due to accidents caused? Or that tiredness causes 20% of major accidents on the UK’s roads?

Throw in long working hours and shift-working into the mix, and fatigue becomes just as serious a workplace hazard as any other. Read on to find out more about how fatigue can affect the workplace – and the steps to take to minimise risk.

Why is fatigue a risk?

With over 3.5 million people in the UK working on shifts, fatigue is a serious hazard for UK workplaces. With long working hours without adequate periods to rest and recover in between, it’s easy to cross the line between feeling a bit tired, to having your performance compromised.

And unfortunately, fatigue isn’t something that can be fixed with a strong cup of coffee.

More than feeling a little tired and weary, it can actually lead to a decline a mental and physical performance, lack of attentiveness, memory problems, poor reaction times and much more.

In fact, it’s often been the underlying cause behind many high profile industrial accidents – think Chernobyl, Clapham Junction and Exxon Valdez.

What causes fatigue?

Two of the main causes of fatigue are simply spending long, repeated periods being awake, or irregular and disrupted sleep patterns.

And for those working shifts or repeated long hours, both of these factors are pretty common, with extended shifts or shift rotations across different times of day and night being commonplace.

But these aren’t the only causes that can lead to fatigue.

Other commonplace workplace conditions – such as high temperatures and noise, dim visibility, or carrying out repetitive and monotonous tasks for long periods can also increase the feeling of fatigue.

How can you reduce the risks?

Just like any other workplace hazard, fatigue needs to be addressed and managed, to avoid it becoming a serious risk.

As well as looking at physical hazards, a regular risk assessment should also identify if fatigue is a risk for workers too, before taking steps to counter it. The HSE’s fatigue risk index is a useful practical tool to help you spots issues and hazards in your workplace.

What steps you take to minimise the risk of serious fatigue will depend on your workplace and conditions – it might mean reviewing staffing levels and how resources are managed, or it might call for a re-design of shift schedules, to make sure that work activities, duration and rotation are well balanced.

You can also provide on-site resources to help workers rest and recover adequately in between shifts more easily – providing facilities where they can nap, on-site accommodation or prepared meals are just some of the ways this could be done.

Your takeaway points

Fatigue can have one of the most powerful impacts on productivity and safety at work – but it’s all too easy to dismiss it. Here’s why you shouldn’t:

  • It leads to 20% of accidents on the UK’s roads
  • It can cost businesses up to £240 million
  • It can be caused by a number of factors – from monotonous hours on the same task, to long working days and disrupted sleep patterns
  • A risk assessment, referring to the fatigue risk index, is one of the best ways to identify what steps you need to take, to minimise the impact of fatigue.

Do you have any questions about managing fatigue? Give us a shout!

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A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter and Linkedin.

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