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Managing fatigued workers

Fatigue is a hazard. Employers in Australia have a duty to do everything reasonably practicable to make the working environment safe and monitor employee health. This means all workplaces should have a fatigue policy, and educate supervisors and managers on how to identify and manage fatigue.

Where fatigue creates significant risk (e.g. in workplaces with heavy plant and equipment, in the health profession, the mining industry and when working at heights), there must be:

  • specific training for workers and supervisors/managers on how to identify when a person is fatigued;
  • a plan for how to manage fatigue based upon worker wellbeing; and
  • a requirement that workers report their state of fatigue and capacity for work, including disciplinary consequences for breaching this requirement.

The risks of fatigue

Fatigue can affect the health and safety of workers both directly and indirectly.

Direct effects can lead to short- and long-term health issues, including;

  • stress;
  • mood changes, such as depression;
  • obesity;
  • cardiovascular disease; and
  • gastrointestinal problems, e.g. constipation and stomach discomfort.

Indirectly, fatigue can affect a worker’s own health and safety, as well as the health and safety of others in the workplace, exposing everyone to the following risks:

  • impaired judgment, i.e. reduced capability to make good decisions;
  • reduced physical capacity; and
  • slower reaction times.

Managing fatigue in the workplace

When managing fatigue you should consider the following:

  1. Enlightening employees to the risks fatigue poses to safety and performance: It is an employee’s obligation to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury to themselves or others. Once the hazard and risk have been identified, the employee’s obligation to prevent the risks associated with attending work fatigued must be carefully considered.
  2. Instituting appropriate policies: Policies should clearly identify the hazard and how it creates a risk to workers’ performance and safety. The performance element should fall under the code of conduct and performance-related HR policies, while the safety policies must describe the employees’ specific obligations to prevent the risk of working while fatigued. This should include the obligation to report fatigue and use a self-assessment process to determine fitness for work.
  3. Encouraging self-reporting: Acknowledge that life creates fatigue (e.g. through being a parent, noise or stress, etc.) and make sure any fatigue policy that is implemented rewards self-reporting and self-management, and is not punitive. The key to all safety management is knowing the risk ahead of time and managing it—rather than creating a process that discourages people from reporting.

Further information about how to manage fatigue can be found in F3 Fatigue Management in the Health & Safety Handbook. This chapter also includes a fully customisable, legally compliant Fatigue Management Policy template you can download and use in your workplace today.

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