Defining Workplace Fatigue
Fatigue is a perpetual state of tiredness that progresses into mental or physical exhaustion and inhibits workers from effectively functioning within practical boundaries. Fatigue is far beyond a simple feeling tiredness and drowsiness, it is a physical condition often occurs when a person meets their physical or mental limits
Fatigue can result from a variety of work or lifestyle related factors or a combination. Some of the work related factors include:
- insufficient breaks
- extensive time of being awake
- inadequate recovery time between shifts
- payment incentives that inadvertently encourage working longer shifts
- environmental conditions (for example, climate, light, noise, workstation design)
- type of work being undertaken; whether physical or mentally exhausting work.
Lifestyle-factors can include:
- lack of quality sleep due as a result of sleeping disorders
- busy social life
- personal responsibilities
- additional employment
- travel (sometimes work time)
- nutrition and diet, exercise, pain, illness
Safe Work Australia’s signs of worker fatigue
- Headaches and/or dizziness
- Wandering thoughts, daydreaming, lack of concentration
- Blurred vision or difficulty keeping eyes open
- Constant yawning, a drowsy relaxed feeling or falling asleep at work
- Moodiness such as irritability
- Short term memory problems
- Low motivation
- Impaired decision-making and judgment
- Slow reflexes and responses
- Reduced immune system function
- Increased errors
- Extended sleep during days off work
- Falling asleep for a few seconds without realising
- Drifting in and out of traffic lanes
Sleep is the only effective long term strategy to prevent and manage fatigue. While tired muscles can recover with rest, the brain can only recover with sleep. The most beneficial sleep is a good night’s sleep taken in a single continuous period.
One sleepless night can be be equated to someone who has been drinking alcohol, for example:
- being awake for 17 hours is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of 0.05
- being awake for 20 hours is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of 0.1
Shift workers (including night work) and fatigue
The body has a natural rhythm that repeats every 24 hours – known as a ‘body clock’. Our body clock regulates our sleeping patterns, body temperature, hormone levels and digestion.
When the human body clock is interrupted, our alertness suffers which results in feelings of fatigue. This contributes to the risks of making errors and subsequently resulting in accidents and injuries, either in the workplace or travelling to work.
Shift workers are one of the most affected groups of fatigue. Body clock rhythms have a difficulty in adjusting to shiftwork. In many workplaces shift work, and particularly night work cannot be avoided which increases the need for proactively managed fatigue.
Source: Safe Work Australia draft code of practice on workplace fatigue