Dangers of Worker Fatigue – 7 warning signs

By Joanna Weekes on October 7th, 2014
  1. Safety Management
  2. Fatigue Management

repair man worker sad fatigue failure silhouette
Fatigue is a common problem in workplaces and can greatly increase health and safety risks for workers.

Fatigued workers can cause harm to themselves and others through impaired judgement and reduced capacity to perform their work. Workers who are fatigued may have a slower reaction time or be unable to make good decisions.

Fatigue can also lower the immune system, leading to illness, and can result in long-term health effects, such as heart disease.

Anyone who does not receive adequate quality sleep is susceptible to fatigue. Depending on the nature of their work, this could carry a high degree of risk.

Are your workers susceptible to fatigue?
Workers more likely to experience fatigue are those who:

  • undertake shift work;
  • have excessive working hours, e.g. 10–12 hours per day or more than 50 hours per week;
  • have significant demands outside the workplace, e.g. family or carer’s responsibilities; or
  • have an illness or injury.

If a worker’s fatigue causes an injury to themselves or others in the workplace, the injured worker will be able to claim workers’ compensation.

Dangers of fatigue in high-risk workplaces
High-risk workplaces include those where workers:

  • operate machinery or equipment;
  • drive a vehicle, such as a truck or forklift;
  • undertake complex processes; and
  • handle hazardous materials.

As part of your health and safety obligations, you must ensure that workers are able to carry out the inherent requirements of their job. This is known as a fitness for work assessment.

This involves observing and communicating with your workers to ensure they are able to perform their work.

What are the warning signs of fatigue?
Look out for these warning signs in your workers:

  • excessive yawning;
  • red eyes;
  • irritability;
  • lack of focus;
  • slow response times;
  • poor work performance; and
  • workers taking micro sleeps (short sleeps lasting 4–5 seconds).

What should you do if a worker is fatigued?
If a worker appears to be fatigued, consider sending them home. They may be entitled to paid personal or annual leave.

Make sure the worker is able to travel home safely. Consider calling a taxi if they appear unfit to drive.

Remember, if you allow a fatigued worker to continue working in a high-risk workplace, you may be in breach of your duty to provide a safe work environment.

If you want to find out more about worker fatigue and what you can do to reduce your health and safety risks, you can refer to chapter F3 Fatigue Management. If you’re not a subscriber, find out more about the Health & Safety Handbook.

Before I go I’d like to let you know about a brand new e-Book we’ve just created here at Portner Press called How to Develop a Safe Operating Procedure.

Written by Michael Selinger, this e-Book is a practical and easy-to-understand guide to the essential task of researching, creating and issuing safe operating procedures in your workplace.

It walks you through exactly what you need to do from start to finish and it also contains 4 handy document templates you can download, edit, print and use in your workplace immediately, including:

  • A Template Hazard Register
  • A Sample Safe Operating Procedure
  • A Template Document Control Register
  • A Template Training and Induction Record

Click here to find out more and to download your copy today

Until next time,

Joanna Weekes
Health & Safety Bulletin

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