Work-related fatigue: A guide for employers

This guidance may help employers control the risk of work-related fatigue. It may also benefit employees and health and safety representatives.

Definition of work-related fatigue

Fatigue is an acute and/or ongoing state that leads to physical, mental or emotional exhaustion and prevents people from functioning safely. Working long hours, with intense mental or physical effort, or during some or all of the natural time for sleep, can cause fatigue. All of these have obvious implications for workplace and public safety. Fatigue can also have long-term effects on health.

Types of fatigue

There are three broad categories of fatigue: physical, mental and emotional, which can occur together or separately. Although different, they are equally serious.

  • Physical fatigue is pronounced physical exhaustion and reduced ability to engage in physical activities, such as manual labour.
    • Mental fatigue is pronounced mental exhaustion and reduced ability to engage in cognitive activities, such as making decisions.
      • Emotional fatigue is pronounced emotional exhaustion and reduced ability to engage in emotional activities, such as empathising with or caring for others.

      What causes fatigue?

      Fatigue can be caused by working long hours or by working during some or all of the natural time for sleep.

      Fatigue can also result from an imbalance between the demands of someone’s job, such as the physical, mental or emotional exertion required to perform a task, and the personal and work resources provided to support a person to manage these demands. For example, not enough mental and physical recovery time between shifts, or insufficient tools or manager support, may cause workers to become fatigued.

      Adequate sleep, recuperation time and support are essential to prevent fatigue or, when fatigue does occur, to restore balance and promote recovery.

      To effectively prevent fatigue in the workplace, it is important to understand the different factors, that contribute directly or indirectly to fatigue.