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Fatigue is something we all experience from time to time. Its part of living in a modern world, but fatigue is more than feeling tired and worn out. In a work context, fatigue is a state of mental and physical exhaustion that reduces a person’s ability to perform their work safely and effectively.

There are a number of causes of fatigue including prolonged or intense mental or physical activity, sleep loss or a disruption of the internal body clock.

According to WorkSafe Australia signs of fatigue include:

  • tiredness even after sleep
  • reduced hand-eye coordination 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.

So what causes fatigue?

Fatigue can be caused by work related or non-work related factors or a combination of both. Work related causes of fatigue include excessively long shifts with not enough time to recover between shifts or blocks of shifts.

Most people are day-orientated meaning they are most alert and productive in the daytime and sleep at night. The circadian rhythms (the body clock) cause regular variations in individual body and mental functions, which are repeated approximately every 24 hours. These rhythms regulate sleeping patterns, body temperature, heart rate, hormone levels, digestion and many other functions.

These rhythms are also influence job performance and quality of sleep. Most of the body’s basic functions show maximum activity during the day and minimum activity at night, and it’s these body rhythms that affect the behaviour, alertness, reaction times and mental capacity of people to varying degrees. If these rhythms get interrupted and recovery as in sleep and rest is hard to come by fatigue can set in.

One industry affected by worker fatigue is the transport sector where drivers are pushed to capacity to deliver loads on time. The pressure of driving at night, long distances, not getting enough sleep and being awake for extended periods has a detrimental affect, not only the driver but on the safety of other drivers on the roads. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) says a driver must not drive a fatigue-regulated heavy vehicle on a road while impaired by fatigue. They suggest if you consign, pack, load or receive goods as part of your business, you could be held legally liable for breaches of road transport laws even though you do not drive a heavy vehicle. In addition they say, corporate entities, directors, partners and managers are accountable for the actions of people under their control. This is the ‘Chain of Responsibility’ (COR).

The NHVR says each person in the COR must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the driver of a fatigue-regulated heavy vehicle does not drive on a road while impaired by fatigue or breach road transport laws relating to fatigue. In addition to this, each person in the COR must take all reasonable steps to ensure a heavy vehicle driver can perform their duties without breaching road transport laws.

There are a number of problems that can occur from fatigue, which places workers at risk of serious injury in the workplace and under OHS laws in Australia the following must be adhered to in the workplace when it comes to fatigue:

  • alertness – workers must be alert while at their place of work especially if operating fixed or mobile plant including driving vehicles
  • undertaking critical tasks that require a high level of concentration
  • working night or shift work when a person would ordinarily be sleeping.
  • a person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers while they are at work, meaning if fatigue is identified as causing a risk to work health and safety, then suitable control measures should be implemented in consultation with workers to eliminate or minimise the risks.
  • workers also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety and health and that their acts or omissions don’t adversely affect the health or safety of others.
  • workers must also comply with any reasonable instructions and cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure relating to fatigue at the workplace,
  • workers must comply with the organisation’s policies and procedures relating to fatigue
  • understanding sleep, rest and recovery needs and obtaining adequate rest and sleep away from work
  • seeking medical advice and assistance if there are concerns about a health condition that affects sleep or causes fatigue
  • assessing fitness for work before commencing work
  • monitoring levels of alertness and concentration while you are at work
  • looking out for signs of fatigue with work colleagues and working in consultation with management and supervisors
  • talking to supervisors or managers if work is being impaired by fatigue that’s likely to create a health and safety risk e.g. because of a health condition, excessive work demands or personal circumstances
  • assessing fatigue levels after work and taking suitable commuting and accommodation options (e.g. avoiding driving if fatigued).


AlertForce is a recognised RTO and offers fatigue management courses in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. Check our website for other states and territories. For more information on traffic control courses visit https://alertforce.com.au/ohs-training-courses/fatigue-management/

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