Fatigue in the workplace
Posted on 12th Oct, 2015 | By Lorretta Tatham
Fatigue in the workplace is a serious issue and needs to be managed as carefully as any other health and safety hazard. While its seriousness may not be evident on first appearances, statistics show the number of accidents and injuries that occur with fatigue are high. In fact, fatigue is said to cost the UK £115-£240 million per year in terms of work accidents alone.
Fatigue: the dangers
Fatigue can be described as the state of feeling very tired, weary or sleepy. While it’s often a result of insufficient sleep, prolonged mental or physical work, long hours, or periods of stress can also have a significant impact on energy levels.
Fatigue results in:
- Slower reactions – which could be critical in an industrial setting
- Reduced ability to process information
- Memory lapses – meaning simple mistakes can occur
- Decreased awareness
- Lack of attention
- Underestimation of risk – a real danger when working from a height
- Reduced co-ordination
- Reduced ability to handle stress
- Reduced decision-making ability
What’s more, repetitive tasks – such as stacking shelves from a ladder in a warehouse – can intensify the feelings of fatigue, making the dangers more prevalent.
Creating the right work environment
To reduce the risk of fatigue in the workplace we recommend providing working environments that have good lighting and comfortable temperatures. Warm temperatures have been proven to intensify the feeling of fatigue. Work tasks should also be varied, change throughout an employee’s shift, and be broken up with breaks.
Ensuring health and wellbeing for shift workers
Shift work comes with a major hazard of fatigued workers and is one area in particular where careful management is required. Night workers are particularly at risk because they usually lack good quality sleep. During the day they sleep lighter, and often for short periods of time, meaning they’re not refreshed when it comes to working at night. What’s more, individuals themselves are not very good at assessing how fatigued they are.
With more than 3.5 million people employed as shift workers in the UK, it’s key that all employers take working hours into consideration to protect staff health and wellbeing.
To ensure your shift workers aren’t at risk of work-induced fatigue, we recommend:
- All working hours should be risk assessed. This assessment should be carried out whenever an individual’s working hours are changed.
- All employers should make use of the HSE’s ‘fatigue risk index’ to make valid assessments on employee health and wellbeing.
- Standardised policies on working hours, overtime, and shift-swapping should be developed within each workplace. This should be monitored and enforced to ensure it’s adhered to.
- Managers should negotiate with staff to fit in with their individual preferences. Some people prefer nights, while others don’t.
- Breaks should be carefully planned. Sleep deprivation usually kicks in between the hours of 3am and 6am – as a result, this is when accidents are most likely to occur. A break around 3am will give staff the time they need to properly re-energise themselves with an energy drink and healthy snack.