Every business can be affected to some degree by work-related fatigue. However some types of work and some industry sectors have an inherently higher risk of fatigue, particularly when shift work is part of their business model.

Fatigue can have a significant negative impact on individuals and the workplace. Like all work health and safety hazards it needs to be managed.

Everyone at work has a responsibility for health and safety, both physical and psychological, and to ensure that fatigue does not create a risk to their own or anyone else’s health and safety.

Not just feeling drowsy

Fatigue is more than just feeling a little drowsy. It’s a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion which reduces your ability to remain alert and adversely affects your capacity to do your work safely and effectively. It can occur because of prolonged mental or physical activity, sleep loss and/or disruption of the internal body clock.

Both work and non-work related factors or a combination of both can cause fatigue, which can also accumulate over time.

Did you know?

The effects of fatigue on work performance can be compared with the effects of alcohol. Being awake for 17 hours impairs performance to the same level as having a 0.05 blood alcohol content, while being awake for 20 hours has the same effect as a 0.1 blood alcohol content.

Fatigue management guidelines

Those who are at high risk of fatigue because their work include:

  • shift and night workers
  • fly-in/fly-out workers
  • drive in/drive out workers
  • seasonal workers
  • on-call/call-back workers
  • emergency services workers
  • medical professionals and other health workers.

Look for the signs

Signs or symptoms that may indicate fatigue include:

  • excessive yawning or falling asleep at work
  • short-term memory problems
  • inability to concentrate
  • noticeably reduced capacity to engage in effective interpersonal communication
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • reduced hand-eye coordination or slow reflexes
  • other changes in behaviour, for example repeatedly arriving late for work
  • increased rates of unplanned absence.

Safety solutions

For possible solutions to managing workplace fatigue look at:

  • designing work rosters so that workers have enough recovery time between shifts
  • avoiding or minimising work during periods of extreme heat or cold
  • rotating jobs to limit a build-up of mental and physical fatigue
  • planning for job demands during expected peaks and troughs in work flow throughout the year
  • ensuring workers take adequate and regular breaks to rest, eat and rehydrate
  • encouraging workers to report any concerns they may have about work-related fatigue.

Worker responsibilities

Workers must take reasonable care for their own safety and health, and make sure they don’t adversely affect the health or safety of others.

To reduce the risk of being involved in a work incident caused by fatigue, you should:

  • comply with your organisation’s policies and procedures relating to fatigue
  • take steps to manage fatigue in consultation with your manager: for example, take a break or shift naps (night shift), drink water, do some stretching or physical exercise, adjust the work environment (for example lighting and/or temperature)
  • talk to your supervisor if you think you’re at risk of fatigue
  • look for signs of fatigue in the people you work with
  • assess your own fitness for work before starting
  • monitor your level of alertness and concentration while you’re at work
  • understand your sleep, rest and recovery needs. Get adequate rest and sleep away from work
  • seek medical help if you’re concerned about a health condition that affects your sleep and/or causes fatigue
  • assess your fatigue levels after work and make sensible commuting and accommodation decisions (for example avoid driving if you’re feeling fatigued).

Further information

Emergency services: guideline for risk managing fatigue

Guide for managing the risk of fatigue at work - Safe Work Australia

Heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws

Rail safety requirements – managing fatigue