How to manage fatigue in your workplace processes

By Portner Press on December 15th, 2017
  1. Safety Management
  2. Fatigue Management


FINDING the best way to reduce the risks of fatigue isn’t only different among industries, it is also different among workers, members of an expert panel assembled by Safe Work Australia (SWA) have said.

Speaking as part of SWA’s Virtual Seminar Series, the panel discussed how shift work and working irregular or long hours can adversely affect the health, safety and wellbeing of workers.

Two key points emerged in the course of the discussion, summarised below – along with a few pointers about how you can implement these recommendations in your workplace:

  1. People respond differently to fatigue – you have to find what works for you

Professor Van Dongen said new research into circadian rhythms – the natural cycles of the body that control sleep – show that how people respond to sleep disruption could be a trait, or even genetically linked.

“Some people are much more resilient… and some people are very vulnerable when they even lose about 10 minutes of their normal sleep – you immediately see the consequences,” he said.

“There is, in principle, a better work schedule for every specific individual, and if we could just match the individual with the work schedule, shift work might not be as big a problem as it is today.”

  1. The first step is to talk about it

Professor Drew Dawson of Central Queensland University’s Appleton Institute says there is a need for companies to consult their workforce better when trying to find solutions to fatigue, rather than applying one prescriptive approach.

“Just knowing the person you’re working with is (fatigued) will change the way you observe, interact and regulate their behaviour… I think there’s some very good low-tech solutions that come when people think it’s okay to talk about this topic,” he said.

“Let’s share the silly things people do when they’re fatigued and let’s see if we can redesign the system so those mistakes don’t necessarily cost lives,” he said.

Finding your own solution

Professor Dawson says there are already examples in industries such as healthcare and emergency services, were workers were taking steps to manage fatigue of their own volition.

“But they’re not formal elements in the safety management system and, in many cases, they’re procedural violations, despite the fact that they are making the place safe.”

When looking for a way to manage fatigue risk in your business, Professor Van Dongen says there is no catch-all answer, because everyone will respond to their working hours in different ways.

“But I would suggest that sometimes the answer has already been found. Sometimes the answer is already in the organisation, in the individuals. They’ve come up with a solution to make things work.”

For example, Professor Van Dongen said some companies were now focusing more on regulating fatigue levels rather than requiring workers observing a strict number of hours to be worked.

“Sanctioned napping in the workplace can be a really good solution, (but) it depends on the workplace,” he said.

“People have found solutions that can, in their particular circumstances, be just perfectly fine… There is always room for improvement, but don’t throw overboard the things you’ve already figured out that actually do work.”

For further information

The Health & Safety Handbook suggests that when you find workers are fatigued you discuss the issue with them as soon as possible – and keep an up-to-date record of your discussions and observations.

For example, if you act to help a worker address fatigue, you should conduct follow-up meetings to check on the progress of your plan – and take notes to prove you tried to fix the problem.

Chapter F3 Fatigue Management of the Health & Safety Handbook provides more information about the signs of fatigue, how you can direct a fatigued worker to take leave and a checklist with some suggestions on how to reduce fatigue risk in your workplace.

The chapter is one of more than 70 put together by the legal team at Holding Redlich, to help support you in making sure your workplace is safe for all employees and visitors.

Click here to order your copy today and help make your business safer for everyone.

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