Fatigue is a state of exhaustion which can reduce the an employee’s ability to perform work safely and effectively. It is a health and safety risk due to their reduced alertness. Consequently, it can cause errors in judgment and an increase in near misses or injuries, exposing your business to liability for damages or associated debts.
Below, we outline how an employer can identify, prevent and manage fatigue in the workplace and mitigate risk.
How Can an Employer Identify Fatigue?
Fatigue is more than feeling drowsy or overworked. Below are some signs or symptoms to look for:
- Excessive yawning or falling asleep;
- Memory problems;
- Inability to concentrate;
- Impaired decision making; or
- Changes in behaviour, such as lateness or absenteeism from work.
How Can an Employer Prevent Fatigue?
An employer can prevent fatigue by recognising the factors which could contribute to and increase the risk of fatigue. These may include:
- Work schedules such as early starts or late finishes, limited breaks between shifts or overtime, which limit the time an employee can physically and mentally recover from work;
- Job demands such as concentrating for extended periods of time, repetitious work or continued physical effort;
- Sleep conditions such as length, quality and time since sleeping;
- Environmental conditions such as exposure to heat, cold or noisy workplaces; or
- Non-work related factors such as lifestyle, family responsibilities or extended commuting time.
How Can an Employer Recognise These Factors?
An employer could use the following methods to recognise the factors that are unique to their workplace. These may include:
- Consulting with your employees and managers about how their workload and schedules are impacting them;
- Examining work practices such as the control the employees have over their hours and rest breaks;
- Examining work records such as rosters to determine how many hours their employees are working and whether this is reasonable or excessive;
- Reviewing incident data and considering the common factors in incidents such as time of day or employee; and
- Reviewing human resource data such as absenteeism, staff turnover or worker’s compensation claims.
How Can an Employer Manage Fatigue?
The best way to manage fatigue in the workplace is to eliminate some or all of the factors we have listed above. What this involves will depend on the industry, structure of the organisation and employee carrying out the work.
If elimination is not possible, an employer can manage fatigue by incorporating control measures into each of the factors which may cause fatigue. This may include:
- Scheduling work hours to allow employees the opportunity to sleep and rest;
- Introducing rotating job positions to limit periods that employees are mentally or physically fatigued;
- Allocating consecutive days off or keeping consecutive night and overtime shifts to a minimum;
- Avoiding working during periods of extreme temperature; and
- Consulting with employees about how to manage fatigue when they are not at work.
How Can an Employer Ensure they Effectively Manage Fatigue?
After implementing these control measures, they should be monitored and reviewed at regular intervals to make sure they continue to manage fatigue effectively.
You may also want to consider revisiting these control measures when:
- There is an indication that risks are no longer being controlled;
- There is the introduction of new tasks, equipment, procedures or schedules;
- There are changes in the work environment;
- There has been an incident due to fatigue; or
- There has been a report by an employee indicating a review may be necessary.
Workplace Fatigue Policy
You may also want to consider drafting a Workplace Fatigue Policy to communicate how you will prevent and manage fatigue in the workplace. This could include information about:
- Hours of work such as maximum shift length and average weekly hours;
- Control measures for specific tasks, jobs and operations;
- Self-assessment checklists;
- Procedures for reporting potential hazards and risks; and
- Procedures for managing fatigued workers such as temporary task re-allocation if the employee is too fatigued to work.
This Policy would usually form part of an Employee Policies Handbook which sets out all of the policies of your company and your expectations and values. It usually includes policies on:
- Leave entitlements;
- Dress code;
- Internet, email and social media use;
- Bullying, discrimination and harassment;
- Workplace Health and Safety;
- Workplace surveillance;
- Complaints handling; and
- Disciplinary action.
Do you have any other concerns about preventing or managing fatigue in the workplace? Or do you need assistance with drafting a Workplace Fatigue Policy or an Employee Policies Handbook? Get in touch with our employment lawyers by sending us a message or calling 1300 544 755.