Fatigue Management: A Worker's Guide
WHAT IS FATIGUE?
Fatigue is more than feeling tired and drowsy. In a work context, fatigue is a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion that reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively.
It can occur because of prolonged or intense mental or physical activity, sleep loss and/or disruption of the internal body clock.
Signs of fatigue include:
Tiredness even after sleep
Reduced hand-eye coordination or slow reflexes
Short term memory problems and an inability to concentrate
Blurred vision or impaired visual perception
A need for extended sleep during days off work
WHAT CAUSES FATIGUE?
Fatigue can be caused by work related or non-work related factors or a combination of both.
Work related causes of fatigue include excessively long shifts, not enough time to recover between shifts and blocks of shifts, very strenuous jobs and long commuting times. An example of non-work related fatigue would be poor quality sleep due to street noise or family demands.
THE BODY CLOCK
Most people are day-orientated meaning they are most alert and productive in the daytime and sleep at night. The circadian rhythms (the body clock) cause regular variations in individual body and mental functions repeated approximately every 24 hours.
These rhythms regulate sleeping patterns, body temperature, heart rate, hormone levels, digestion and many other functions.
These rhythms influence job performance and quality of sleep. Most of the body’s basic functions show maximum activity by day and minimum activity by night.
The body rhythms affect the behaviour, alertness, reaction times and mental capacity of people to varying degrees.
WHY IS FATIGUE A PROBLEM IN THE WORKPLACE?
Fatigue may increase the risk of incidents because of a lack of alertness. Fatigue may result in a slower reaction to signals or situations and affect the ability to make good decisions, particularly when:
Operating fixed or mobile plant including driving vehicles
Undertaking critical tasks that require a high level of concentration
Undertaking night or shift work when a person would ordinarily be sleeping.
A person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers while they are at work.
This means if fatigue is identified as causing a risk to work health and safety, then suitable control measures should be implemented in consultation with workers to eliminate or minimise the risks.
YOUR RESPONSIBILITY AS A WORKER
Workers have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety and health and that their acts or omissions don’t adversely affect the health or safety of others.
Workers must also comply with any reasonable instruction and cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure relating to fatigue at the workplace, for example fitness for work policies and policies regarding second jobs.
REDUCING THE RISK OF FATIGUE
To reduce the risk of being involved in a work incident caused by fatigue, you should:
Comply with your organisation’s policies and procedures relating to fatigue
Understand your sleep, rest and recovery needs and obtain adequate rest and sleep away from work
Seek medical advice and assistance if you have or are concerned about a health
condition that affects your sleep and/or causes fatigue
Assess your own fitness for work before commencing work
Monitor your level of alertness and concentration while you are at work
Look out for signs of fatigue in the people you work with
In consultation with your supervisor, take steps to manage fatigue, for example take a break or short nap (night shift), maintain hydration (drink water), do some stretching or physical exercise, adjust the work environment (lighting, temperature)
Talk to your supervisor or manager if you foresee or experience being impaired by fatigue likely to create a health and safety risk e.g. because of a health condition, excessive work demands or personal circumstances
Assess your fatigue levels after work and take suitable commuting and accommodation options (e.g. avoiding driving if fatigued)
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO WE NEED?
Sleep researchers believe there is no one magic number for ‘sleep need’ and there are a lot of individual differences in what children and adolescents need to sleep to be at their best. But below is a guide of the best evidence we have so far:
Babies under 1: 14-18 hours throughout the day and night
Toddlers: 12-14 hours per 24 hour period
Primary school: 10-12 hours per day
High school: 8-10 hours per day
Adults: 7-9 hours per day
GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE CAN HELP PROMOTE GOOD SLEEP
"Sleep hygiene" - this can be defined as habits that can help us to sleep or stop us from sleeping. If you or someone you know is having trouble sleeping you can try to change or include some of the things on this list and see if it helps.
No TV/computer games 1 hour before bed. No TV s in bedrooms
Monitor mobile phone use in bed
No caffeine, high sugar or high spicy food 3-4 hours before bed
Ensure relaxing and regular bed time routine - special time with children, relaxation techniques such as breathing
No vigorous exercise 1 hour before bed - it raises the body temperature
Finish eating 2-3 hours before bed - digestion competes with sleeping - hot milk is OK
Make sure the bedroom is comfortable (temperature, light, noise)
Set bedtimes and wake times - try and keep these regular
Learn to relax - deal with worry and stress
Use a sleep diary to check how many hours you are sleeping - Are you sleeping enough
Convince children that it is important to sleep well - reward them for complying with bedtime rules