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Date PostedApril 30, 2014

White Card Update: Fatigue’s Contribution to Workplace Injuries

I recently came across an article on the risks associated with fatigue in the transport industry and it got me thinking about how prevalent this hazard was on construction sites and whether or not it was a contributor to workplace injuries in the sector.

According to statistics construction is amongst the most high risk industries in Australia and it is also one of the most strenuous, with most of the work being conducted on work sites involving manual labour. It is this nature of construction work, coupled with the pressures associated with safety and the stress linked to productivity demands that makes the construction industry one of the most demanding and most tiring.

Ultimately fatigue can affect anyone, in any industry or profession but when it affects a person whose job depends on their alertness, such as those in high risk industries including construction, the risks and need to avoid fatigue is even more crucial because it becomes not just a matter of making mistakes which cost financially but a matter of life and death mistakes.

Fatigue can affect a worker’s health and according to statistics, can drastically increase their chances of workplace injuries. Fatigue also reduces a person’s performance and productivity.

The issues that can induce fatigue in workers include a mentally and physically demanding job, work schedules and planning or lack thereof, working shifts, environmental conditions and other individual factors such as eating, sleeping and living habits.

Employers should identify whether the working conditions and environment may promote fatigue among workers, for example is working night shifts part of the job? If fatigue is a factor, it needs to be addressed by employers before it results in an incident.

Experts warn that fatigue can be caused by work-related factors, factors outside work and/or a combination of both, and may accumulate over time, employers should be aware of this. Scheduling patterns, length of shifts, proof work scheduling and planning, time worked and timing of shifts all affect a person and can cause fatigue. Another factor is a lack of rest and recovery time between shifts of long periods of time awake.

Employers are wise to manage fatigue because so doing includes a number of benefits including

  • Lowering the rate of accidents and human errors
  • Increasing productivity
  • Decreasing general maintenance costs with respect to human resources
  • Lowering the levels of absenteeism and staff turnover

Ultimately by helping an employee improve their ability to concentrate on the task at hand, employers contribute to the organisation’s growth and development – this can be done by identifying and managing fatigue among workers.

The Importance of Sleep

Getting enough, quality sleep is vital to avoiding fatigue. Difficulty sleeping and insomnia is a major problem for many people and can have severe consequences on a worker’s health and safety by contributing to fatigue. Some of the recommended tips for sleeping include:

  • Draw the blinds or curtains and use sound insulation to reduce light levels and noise within the room or sleeping cabin
  • Make sure the people in your life know of the hours that you will be sleeping so as to avoid disruptions from friends and family.
  • Try to develop ways of unwinding after an afternoon or night shift such as taking a walk or watching television till you fall asleep
  • Have a shower or a relaxing bath before going to bed, this will soothe and relax you making it easier to fall asleep.

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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