There may not always be obvious signs of fatigue in your workplace, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that fatigue factors aren’t present or posing a significant risk to the workforce.
Fatigue levels are not easily measured or quantified and therefore it is difficult to identify and isolate the effects of fatigue on workers and related workplace incidents. With this in mind, it is not uncommon that fatigue risk is underestimated and not prioritised in many workplaces today. So how can organisations identify fatigue risk in their workplace?
As fatigue can occur from a variety of interrelated factors, it is important that all factors present in your workplace are understood in determining fatigue risk.
At a minimum, organisations need to consider work-related factors such as rosters, poor work planning, environmental conditions, mentally or physically demanding work tasks and rest breaks during shifts. However, it is not just your employee’s work conditions that impact on fatigue levels, there are of course a number of personal factors that can contribute to insufficient sleep. It is a lack of sleep that ultimately leads to the onset of fatigue. Some of these personal factors include social life activity, family needs, secondary employment, travel and commuting time, medical conditions and the use of substances such as alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and drugs.
When aiming to identify fatigue risk in your workplace, it is important to consider utilising some key methods to assist in the process. Here are six practical methods organisations can utilise to identify if fatigue is an issue their organisation.
1. Workforce Consultation
Consultation is a fundamental element of a proactive approach to fatigue risk management in the workplace. Be sure to include managers, supervisors and health and safety representatives in the consultation process and discuss the impact that roster and workload, as well as work travel/commuting are having on the workers. Through consultation, managers and supervisors can become more aware of fatigue risk posing a threat to workers and in turn workers, can provide suggestions about how to rectify identified issues.
2. Observe work practices
Examining work practices and systems will assist with effectively identifying fatigue risk in your organisation. This can be achieved by proactively observing systems, tasks, environmental conditions, machine-person interfaces and procedures in action. Observing these practices will provide an insight into whether your organisation has work practices, cultures or systems that may need to be addressed or adjusted to enhance alertness or tolerate potential fatigue-related errors.
3. Reviewing working hours
By examining worker records such as invoices, work diaries, sign on sheets, timesheets and shift and roster change-over documents, we can determine patterns where hours worked may be excessive or fatigue-inducing and make adjustments where necessary or utilise additional resources if possible.
Here’s a tip: Consider including working hours on your safety agenda, as well as Toolbox Talks to encourage feedback from workers in relation to their working hours.
4. Research and reaching out to your networks
There is a wealth of information out there that we call upon on regular basis to guide our work in the area of occupational fatigue. Advice and research information provided from relevant experts, regulators, industry associations, and forums/groups on social media can be beneficial in increasing knowledge and awareness on the potential fatigue risks in organisations. In addition, be sure to be well-read on the Codes of Practice relevant to your state and industry.
5. Reviewing workplace incident data
Identifying possible fatigue causing factors can be done effectively by looking more closely at work-related incident or near miss records. When reviewing incident data, be sure to review things such as: the time of the incident, hours of work, sleep and sleep patterns, work conditions, time on task and health conditions. It can also be beneficial to review human resource records, which may indicate absenteeism trends due to fatigue-inducing rosters.
6. Monitoring fitness for duty
It’s important to understand that an employee’s lifestyle can potentially impact their safety at work. Employers can’t control what people do outside of work or how much sleep they get but it’s essential that employers proactively monitor the fitness for work of their employees and educate employees on what it means to be “fit for duty”. If an employee arrives at work tired or fatigued, they may not only be less productive but could potentially be a danger to themselves and those around them.
When considering fitness for work of employees, the medical state of person should also be monitored. This is typically done by periodic medical screening to identify underlying conditions that could impact a person at work. Drug and alcohol screening is also another common practice that can ensure workers are not under the influence of substances that could affect their alertness levels. Lastly, regularly checking in and consulting with workers on a daily basis can assist with identifying employees who may not be fit for duty or in a state to be performing certain tasks such as high risk activities.
By creating an awareness of potential fatigue risk factors relevant to your industry and incorporating the above methods into your fatigue risk assessment process, you can begin to work towards identifying and in turn, mitigating this often silent but serious risk within your organisation. Being proactive in identifying and working towards mitigating fatigue risk in your workplace is a necessary step towards making your organisation a safe and healthy place to work.