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What is Fatigue?

Feeling tired or drowsy following prolonged mental or physical exertion is normal. Fatigue, however is an acute, and/or ongoing state of tiredness that leads to mental and physical exhaustion preventing someone from functioning at his or her normal level. The direct impact on work performance includes:

  • inability to focus or concentrate

  • taking longer to perform tasks

  • slowed reaction times

  • increased irritability

  • and reduced alertness

The implications of these symptoms on safety diligence in the workplace are obvious. The ability to recognise a dangerous situation, react to or solve a problem is all sub-optimal.

Research has shown that being awake for 17 hours has a physiological effect on your focus akin to a blood-alcohol level of 0.05; being awake 20 hours is equivalent to having a blood-alcohol level of 0.11. Would you like one of your staff members performing a safety-critical task with in an hour of consuming 4-5 beers?

The education needs to begin with managers and team leaders. An old school mentality of managers telling workers to “grab a coffee” or “just get over it” must be avoided. They need to understand that the complaint of fatigue may be genuine, and that it may be adversely affecting work performance and safety.

Additionally, it is important to note that it takes a combination of strategies to reduce the risk of fatigue in the workplace. It is not enough just to look at rosters and scheduling - although shift length and time of work are part of the picture - it's the 'human factors' that will exacerbate the chances of fatigue related accidents and incidences. That's why we believe that education and changing business culture is such an effective way to reduce this risk.


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