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Date PostedFebruary 24, 2013

Combatting Chronic Fatigue in the Building Industry


By Vox Efx

One of the problems that are seldom confronted head on by workers in the building industry, but can cause other more serious safety issues, is worker fatigue.

Fatigue affects Aussies from different backgrounds and industries however it is more prevalent in certain industries than it is in others. Construction is one of those industries that due to its physical nature can be demanding and taxing on a person’s physique and combined with long hours, shift work, heavy machinery and countless hazards can result in chronic fatigue of construction workers.

With so many dangerous activities combined on one confined site, every worker has their part to play towards safety and this cannot be done if any one of them is fatigued. Safety is basically jeopardised due to fatigue, and on a building site this can translate to injuries and loss of life.

Irregular working hours and overtime shifts can contribute to fatigue in workers therefore the appropriate control measures need to be developed and implemented to fight chronic fatigue.

Workers undertaking shift work in particular need to take the proper measures to ensure they manage this hazard so that it does not become a problem to their health and safety and that of their co-workers.  However it should be remembered that fatigue can be caused by other problems such as unhealthy lifestyles and sleep apnoea.

It is interesting to note that being awake for 17 hours is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of 0.05 and being awake for 20 hours is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of 0.1. So going onto a construction site without the appropriate rest is the equivalent of undertaking construction work under the influence of alcohol.

This proves why workers must get adequate rest and restorative sleep and do not work longer shifts than allowed by the law. You wouldn’t get behind the wheel of your car after drinking, so why engage in dangerous construction tasks without the proper rest.

Fatigue is more than just being tired, it is chronic fatigue that is a much more serious issue and more complex to address. Continuous and uncorrected fatigue can in the long run lead to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, gastro-intestinal disorders and depression.

It is time that workers and employers in the construction industry recognise how serious a problem fatigue really is and work on ways of combatting it.

The OHS implications are numerous, ranging from decreased alertness to slowed reaction times. One can only imagine how many accidents probably occurred because workers were fatigued at the time and were not able to fully concentrate, especially when carrying out complex and dangerous tasks such as crane operation or work from a height.

Some of the other consequences include poor hand-eye coordination (also needed for construction work), poor communication, higher error rates, reduced vigilance and decision-making ability as well as poor judgement of performance, especially when assessing risks.

Fatigued workers on a construction site are also slower to respond to emergency situations and can end up losing their lives because they make the wrong decision in a critical moment.

Another ability that is restricted by fatigue which construction workers ordinarily rely on is the ability to remember the sequence of events. Workers need this ability to be able to remember safety procedures and the sequence which they are trained to follow, something not possible if they are fatigued.


Peter Cutforth is a Director at Urban E-Learning, a global elearning and web strategy firm based in George St Brisbane. Peter's interests extend to training, safety and compliance, online marketing, and Mobile Apps.

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