Learn about the risks associated with fatigue and develop strategies to help prevent and manage it.


Step 1: Learn about fatigue

Fatigue is more than feeling drowsy. It is a current or ongoing state of tiredness that prevents people from functioning safely and within normal boundaries. Fatigue includes physical, emotional and mental fatigue.

Fatigue can cause harm in many ways. It can increase error rates, slow reaction times, increase the likelihood of accidents and injuries, and cause micro sleeps. Long term effects of fatigue include a higher risk of developing health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression or gastrointestinal disorders.

Fatigue is not only a risk at work, it can be a risk outside of work - work and lifestyle often impact each other. If an employee leaves their job exhausted this may reduce their ability to perform in other life roles, and potentially increases their risk of vehicle accidents driving home. Likewise, if a worker arrives at work fatigued their performance may be reduced.

Key stats and facts

What are your rights and responsibilities at work?

Employers must provide and maintain a workplace that is safe and free from risks to health, including psychological health, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employees have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety in the workplace, and the health and safety of others. While they do have a responsibility to get enough sleep to arrive at work ready for duty, a number of personal reasons can make arriving at work tired unavoidable.

Step 2: Consult your employees

Consultation can be done in a number of ways. Depending on your workplace, it can be as simple as casually walking around your workplace having a conversation, or as formal as setting up a health and safety committee.

Good consultation has lots of benefits – it leads to better decision making and greater cooperation and trust between employers and employees, who get a better understanding of each other's views.

Consultation isn't just good practice though, it's actually a legal requirement for employers. Employers must so far as reasonably practicable consult with employees, including health and safety representatives (if any), when identifying or assessing hazards or risks that do, or are likely to directly affect their health and safety. This includes identifying whether fatigue may be a hazard at the workplace, and working out how to eliminate or reduce the risk of it occurring. At a minimum, it must involve sharing information about the issue, giving reasonable opportunity to employees to share their views on that issue, and taking those views into consideration.

Learn about your rights and responsibilities, as well as how best to consult

Step 3: Identify fatigue

The risks of physical and/or psychological injury from fatigue may increase if employees work long and excessive hours, or work at times when the body is naturally asleep.

There are three specific types of fatigue. These include:

  1. Mental fatigue: from work that requires being alert, demands continuous concentration with minimal variety or requires too little concentration, is performed under pressure with tight deadlines, and could include emergency call outs and interacting with the public.
  2. Physical fatigue: from tiring and repetitive work such as repeated manual handling like lifting and moving objects.
  3. Emotional fatigue: from work that requires an ability to engage in emotional activities, such as empathising with or caring for others. Emotional fatigue might also be referred to compassion fatigue in the context of work, that requires empathy or caring for others.

Organisations should use a number of sources to fully understand the extent and severity of fatigue-related risks. For example, use multiple data sources including incident reports, near misses, and the injury register, as well as consultation with employees and their health and safety representatives, to support you to assess fatigue risks in your workplace.

Step 4: Assess the risk of fatigue

A risk assessment will help you understand the risks to your employees' health and safety, and how to prioritise your efforts to manage them.

It is good practice to identify hazards, either individually or together, which are creating risks to health and safety. Once you have identified the hazards, you can assess the risk of them occurring.

If you have one, a good place to get started is by looking at your organisation's physical and psychosocial risk register. Check if fatigue is included as a risk, or if you need to consider adding it.

Risk assessment tips

Step 5: Control the risks of fatigue

A control simply means 'ways to manage' an issue. Controls are things you put in place to eliminate or reduce risks. The list could be endless, but it's really just about taking action, so far as reasonably practicable, to manage the risk of fatigue happening in your workplace.

Fatigue-related hazards can be interrelated, therefore should not be considered in isolation and the most effective way to reduce the risk may be to implement a combination of controls. For example, a combination of controls may be required to address the risks associated with scheduling and planning, including adequate staffing, managing shift work, and managing night shift.

What is reasonably practicable to do to manage the risk of fatigue will vary depending on the type of industry, the size of the business, and employees carrying out the work.

While preventing harm is your first priority, an effective fatigue risk management system also supports intervening early to manage issues and promote recovery.

Here are some ways that employers can take action (or 'implement a control') to create a safe workplace.

Fatigue management is a complex issue that does not have a simple fix to suit every person and every workplace. Understanding some of the issues, and related to fatigue will help your workplace prevent and manage the risk more effectively.

Remember to monitor and review hazards and controls to ensure controls are working as planned, and when necessary, look for new ways to control the risks.

Step 6: Share, review and improve

A safe and mentally healthy workplace needs ongoing commitment and engagement.

You want to check whether the controls you've implemented are still relevant and effective (i.e. training, reporting). If you have a fatigue management policy and/or procedure, aim to review it every year or when new information about fatigue becomes available.

By sharing the outcomes of these reviews, as well as suggestions and recommendations for improvements, you can keep the conversation going. This will continue to build trust and cooperation between you and your employees. Consultation must be undertaken before making any changes to, the workplace, things used at the workplace, or the conduct of work at the workplace, which may affect employee health and safety. These changes should be communicated to your employees.

Here's an idea! Set a calendar appointment now to review your policy in 12 months.

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Disclaimer: The WorkWell Toolkit provides general information only. Please consider your specific circumstances, needs and seek appropriate professional advice.