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Every business can be affected to some degree by work-related fatigue. However some types of work and some industry sectors have an inherently higher risk of fatigue, particularly when shift work is part of their business model.

Fatigue can have a significant negative impact on individuals and the workplace. Like all work health and safety hazards it needs to be managed.

Everyone at work has a responsibility for health and safety, both physical and psychological, and to ensure that fatigue does not create a risk to their own or anyone else’s health and safety.

Not just feeling drowsy

Fatigue is more than just feeling a little drowsy. It’s a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion which reduces your ability to remain alert and adversely affects your capacity to do your work safely and effectively. It can occur because of prolonged mental or physical activity, sleep loss and/or disruption of the internal body clock.

Both work and non-work related factors or a combination of both can cause fatigue, which can also accumulate over time.

Did you know?

The effects of fatigue on work performance can be compared with the effects of alcohol. Being awake for 17 hours impairs performance to the same level as having a 0.05 blood alcohol content, while being awake for 20 hours has the same effect as a 0.1 blood alcohol content.

Fatigue management guidelines

Those who are at high risk of fatigue because their work include:

  • shift and night workers
  • fly-in/fly-out workers
  • drive in/drive out workers
  • seasonal workers
  • on-call/call-back workers
  • emergency services workers
  • medical professionals and other health workers.

Safe Work Australia’s national fatigue guides for employers and workers provide more information about why workplace fatigue is a problem, and how to assess and control the risks. They provide an overview rather than highlight particular industry requirements which are addressed by specific laws, such as heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws and rail safety requirements.

The management of working hours and fatigue for workers and volunteers who provide frontline emergency services in South Australia has been addressed in specific emergency services guidelines. Contact SAFECOM for further details.

Look for the signs

Signs or symptoms that may indicate fatigue include:

  • excessive yawning or falling asleep at work
  • short-term memory problems
  • inability to concentrate
  • noticeably reduced capacity to engage in effective interpersonal communication
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • reduced hand-eye coordination or slow reflexes
  • other changes in behaviour, for example repeatedly arriving late for work
  • increased rates of unplanned absence.

Safety solutions

For possible solutions to managing workplace fatigue look at:

  • designing work rosters so that workers have enough recovery time between shifts
  • avoiding or minimising work during periods of extreme heat or cold
  • rotating jobs to limit a build-up of mental and physical fatigue
  • planning for job demands during expected peaks and troughs in work flow throughout the year
  • ensuring workers take adequate and regular breaks to rest, eat and rehydrate
  • encouraging workers to report any concerns they may have about work-related fatigue.

Further information

  • Shift work and health a resource tool providing information and education on health outcomes associated with shift work across a variety of industries including comprehensive fact sheets
Further resources can be accessed from our Library catalogue.