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Date PostedOctober 30, 2012

Combatting Fatigue in Construction

Source : o5com

Fatigue is one of the hazards that isn’t often associated with construction work, although it does commonly occur in the industry. Construction work involves a lot of manual activity which can be strenuous and tiring on the body. It also involves shift work which can confuse the body’s internal clock and cause fatigue.

The problem with fatigue in the construction industry in particular is that unlike other industries fatigued construction workers can cause enormous damage, injury and even death if they should fall asleep or make a mistake.

Consequences for construction workers may be greater than it would be for others. Construction work involves hazardous activities and dangerous equipment which if operated while fatigued can result in devastating consequences.

But what exactly is fatigue? It is more than just a feeling of sleepiness. Fatigue is defined as an acute and on-going state of tiredness leading to mental or physical exhaustion. This exhaustion hampers workers normal functioning and inhibits them from performing at an adequate level.

Fatigue may be work-related, lifestyle-related or a combination of both and may include factors like working hours,  scheduling and planning, inadequate rest breaks, lengthy periods of time being awake, insufficient recovery time between shifts, payment incentives that may lead to working longer shifts, environmental conditions, work demands etc.

Some of the major impacts on a workers fatigue levels are inadequate sleep, family responsibilities, health, nutrition and illness.

Shift work and working extended hours can also cause a worker to suffer from fatigue. This is because shift workers sleep less than normal hours because sleep quality during the day is not as good as night sleep.

Extended working hours also increase a person’s risk of suffering from fatigue because their hours of quality sleep are reduced. Workers lose sleep and accumulate what experts refer to as “sleep debt” which increases fatigue and may even affect the worker’s health.

The most common effects associated with fatigue are a desire to sleep, a lack of concentration, impaired recollection of timing and events, irritability, poor judgement, reduced communication ability, reduced hand-eye coordination, reduced visual perception, reduced vigilance, reduced ability to judge risks and slowed reaction times.

But how can fatigue be treated or managed? The only effective treatment is sleep. According to researchers the brain requires sleep in order to recover and rejuvenate, without this rest you will suffer mental and physical fatigue. The most beneficial sleep is a good night’s sleep taken in one continuous period preferably between 7 to 8 hours daily. Good nutrition and exercise also plays a role in overall health which affects fatigue management.

Roster design and shift rotation can play an important role in fatigue management. A person’s shift length and leisure time can affect whether they suffer from fatigue. Number of days off to rest also may affect a workers fatigue as well as time spent sleeping between shifts. The type of work being performed can also affect a person’s fatigue especially if it is particularly strenuous on their bodies or mentally demanding. The time of day spent working is also important because night shifts can affect a person’s circadian rhythms which can cause fatigue and affect their work performance.

The key to managing fatigue successfully is ensuring that workers are given sufficient time between shifts. Adults require approximately seven to eight continuous hours of daily sleep. One way of doing this would be giving workers two successive full days off within a seven day period, so workers can catch up on their night sleep.


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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