How to Manage Workplace Fatigue

February 2, 2016

Employers are being reminded of the importance of implementing a fatigue management policy following the death of a worker, after working long hours in the sun with only one break.

 

In October 2012,  the worker was driving home from work when he veered onto the wrong side of the road and collided with another vehicle.  The worker’s family claimed death benefits arguing that he fell asleep at the wheel because he was fatigued from work.    A number of witnesses told the police that the worker had worked up to 12 hours a day (excluding travel time) in the last five days leading up to his death and had been awake for more than 18 hours when the crash occurred.   Furthermore on the day of the incident the worker controlled traffic in hot conditions, with only one 30-minute break and got extremely sunburnt.

 

The NSW WCC found the man’s fatigue established a “real and substantial connection” between his employment and the car accident and awarded the worker’s partner, mother and son a total of $489,750.00 in compensation.

 

SafeWork NSW defines fatigue as being more than feeling tired and drowsy; it is a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion that reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively.

 

Fatigue can be caused by a number of factors such as prolonged or intense mental or physical activity, long shifts and a short recovery time between shifts.  

 

Should a worker become fatigued it may increase the risk of incidents because of a lack of alertness and slower reaction times.  It can also affect the worker's ability to make good decisions.

 

Safe Work Australia’s guide for the management the risk of fatigue at work provides practical guidelines for employers on how to manage fatigue in the workplace.   Some of these simple strategies include:

  • Developing a working-hours policy on daily work hours, maximum average weekly hours, total hours over a three-month period, on-call work and work related travel.

  • Where possible designing working hours and rosters to allow for good sleep opportunity and enough recovery time between work days or shifts.

  • Ensure your workers take adequate breaks to rest, eat and rehydrate.

  • Managing overtime, shift swapping and on-call duties.

  • Developing plans to deal with workload changes due to absenteeism.

  • Encouraging workers to report concerns they may have about work-related fatigue.

 

Does your workplace have a fatigue management policy?  Contact Compliance OHS to discuss how we can help your business manage the risk of fatigue. 

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