The important role fatigue management plays in working at heights
Are you getting enough sleep?
According to Professor David Hillman, president of the Sleep Health Foundation, 18 per cent of adults in Australia get less than six hours of sleep per night. The average person needs between seven and nine hours of sleep per night in order to perform at their best.
If you’re not getting this much, you could be less productive at work and potentially cause an accident.
This latter eventuality is an all-too-common occurrence in workplaces around Australia, revealed Professor Hillman. Approximately 9,584 employees report suffering from fatigue-related injuries each year in our country. These cost businesses and the wider economy $131,912 – each – per annum.
Evidently fatigue is a costly problem in Australia, both in human and monetary terms. It’s therefore in every employer’s and employee’s best interests to understand exactly what fatigue is, what causes it and what those at all levels of the career ladder can do to prevent it.
What are the symptoms?
There are a wide range of symptoms associated with fatigue. It can prevent employees from being able to concentrate or judge risks as well as they normally can, make them irritable and slower to react and impair their hand-eye coordination and vision.
It can also inhibit employees’ ability to communicate with one another. All of these could lead to an accident that may have been easily prevented.
While attempting to perform tasks when you’re overtired is not ideal in any industry, it can be especially problematic – and dangerous – in the construction sector. That’s because employees are often called upon to use machinery and undertake jobs that require a constant vigilance – such as working at heights.
If your alertness is being clouded by fatigue, you could make an error that results in a serious accident.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland explains that people who are suffering from overtiredness are often incapable of gauging how well they are functioning. This means they could have no idea their actions in the workplace are putting themselves and others at risk.
What causes it?
Not only does fatigue manifest itself in a variety of symptoms, but it can also be the result of an extensive list of factors and circumstances.
Victoria’s Better Health Channel states that a poor diet, lack of exercise, too little, too much and disturbed sleep are all lifestyle factors that may contribute to fatigue.
On top of this, myriad psychological and medical factors, such as depression, anxiety and recurring health problems can impact your ability to get sufficient sleep.
There are also a number of work-related circumstances that could be preventing you from getting the shut-eye you need.
One of the most common is shift work, as this often requires employees to work during hours of the day or night when their bodies are programmed to be asleep.
SafeWork South Australia explains that shift work can throw off the body’s circadian rhythm – the body clock that controls our behavioural and biochemical processes – which can increase a person’s chances of experiencing fatigue.
In addition to shift work, being made to work long hours can also lead to fatigue.
Other factors include work-related stress caused by bullying and conflict, boredom and dissatisfaction, and even the environment you’re working in – according to the Better Health Channel, being exposed to excessive noise and extreme temperatures can up your chances of feeling drowsy at work!
What can you do to prevent it?
Now that you understand the symptoms of and risks posed by fatigue, as well as what causes it to occur, it’s time to put some thought into how you can eradicate it from your life and workplace.
Though fatigue isn’t a tangible work, health and safety (WHS) issue, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t feature in your business’s risk management strategy. Just like any other hazard on the construction site, it needs to be identified as a risk and assessed before a plan of action is developed and implemented to eliminate or reduce its effect on employees.
And, like all other hazards, managing fatigue is the duty of everyone present in the workplace. WHS is a two-way street, and there are steps both employers and employees can take to ensure fatigue is not a feature of your construction site.
The following are just a few.
– To prevent fatigue caused by shift work at unpalatable hours of the day and night, try to arrange shifts for times when employees are programmed to be awake.
– SafeWork South Australia is adamant that employees need “sufficient time between periods of work to physically rest and give their bodies an opportunity to recover from fatigue and workplace hazard exposures”. So, review your employees’ work schedules and make sure they have enough downtime between shifts to recharge properly.
– It can also be a good idea to encourage your workers to perform tasks in teams – the Better Health Channel states that working alone and having “little or no interaction with others” can result in fatigue.
– Provide employees with part-time work hours, if you can, and rotate tasks so that no one is stuck doing the same thing for extended periods of time.
– Try not to drink caffeine or alcohol and avoid eating anything within the two or three hours before you go to bed.
– Always sleep in a cool, dark environment and keep your bedroom free of distractions such as TVs, computers and other devices. It should be reserved for sleeping!
– It might be difficult at first, but setting up a sleep routine and sticking to it can help prevent fatigue. If possible, wake up at the same time every day – even on the weekends – and try to go to bed around the same time, too.
– Make sure you get plenty of exercise, but not during the three hours before you go to bed.
– Eat a balanced diet and cut down or – better yet – quit smoking.
If you would like to discover more about the dangers of fatigue, particularly for those in the construction sector who are working at heights, get in touch with the team at AlertForce today.
We offer a range of WHS courses, including Working at Heights Training, which will equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to keep safe when performing tasks at elevated levels.
In addition to covering the common risks associated with working at heights, such as fatigue, the course will look into topics such as scaffold and ladder safety, walk you through case studies so you can see best practices in action and present you with a WHS certificate at the end.
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