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Fatigue

What is fatigue

Fatigue is more than feeling tired and drowsy. It’s an acute and/or ongoing state of mental and/or physical exhaustion. It can reduce your ability to perform your work safely and effectively.

Signs of fatigue include:

  • tiredness even after sleep
  • reduced hand-eye co-ordination 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.

Occupations at risk

  • Shift workers, night workers.
  • Fly-in, fly-out/drive-in, drive-out workers.
  • Seasonal workers.
  • On-call and call-back workers.
  • Emergency service workers.
  • Medical professionals and other health workers.

Causes of fatigue

Causes of fatigue can be work-related, personal or a combination of both. They can also be short term or accumulate over time.

Work causes of fatigue might include:

  • roster patterns
  • lengths of shifts, or insufficient recovery time between shifts
  • harsh environmental conditions
  • prolonged or intense mental or physical activity.

Consequences of fatigue

Fatigue can reduce someone’s ability to concentrate, make sound decisions, react to signals or situations, recognise risk, co-ordinate hand-eye movements, and control their emotions.

This can increase the risk of incidents and injury in a workplace, particularly when:

  • operating fixed or mobile high risk plant
  • driving a road vehicle
  • working at heights
  • taking part in medical or surgical procedures and settings
  • working with flammable or explosive substances
  • hazardous work, for example electrical work.

Fatigue also has a long-term affect on health, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, gastro-intestinal disorders, and depression and anxiety.

PCBU responsibilities

If you’re a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), you must manage the risks to health and safety associated with fatigue in the workplace.

Identify factors that may cause fatigue in your workplace by:

  • consulting with managers and workers about the impact of workloads and work schedules, including work-related travel and work outside normal hours
  • reviewing workplace incident data and human resource data.

Control measures include:

  • work scheduling
  • shift work and rosters
  • job demands
  • environmental conditions
  • non-work related factors
  • workplace fatigue policy.

For example, consider implementing trial periods for any new work schedules and encourage workers to provide feedback on their effectiveness.

Provide information and training to workers about the work-related factors that can contribute to fatigue, your control measures, and what they can do personally to help them manage fatigue and do their job safely.

Review your control measures to make sure they are effective.

Worker responsibilities

Workers must take reasonable care for their own safety and health, and make sure they don’t adversely affect the health or safety of others.

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
  • in consultation with your manager, take steps to manage fatigue: for example, take a break or shift naps (night shift), drink water, do some stretching or physical exercise, adjust the work environment (for example lighting and/or temperature)
  • talk to your supervisor if you think you’re at risk of fatigue
  • look for signs of fatigue in the people you work with
  • assess your own fitness for work before starting
  • monitor your level of alertness and concentration while you’re at work
  • understand your sleep, rest and recovery needs. Get adequate rest and sleep away from work
  • seek medical help if you’re concerned about a health condition that affects your sleep and/or causes fatigue
  • assess your fatigue levels after work and make sensible commuting and accommodation decisions (for example avoid driving if you’re feeling fatigued).

Resources and solutions

Industry guides on fatigue: WorkSafe Victoria (external link)

Videos about fatigue: Safe Work Australia (external link)

Updated: 29th October 2019