Fatigue is more than feeling tired and drowsy – fatigue is a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion that reduces the ability to work safely and effectively. It can happen when someone is overworked, not sleeping right or has had a disruption to their internal body clock. 

If you’re a person conducting a business or undertaking, you have a work health and safety (WHS) duty to prevent fatigue.  

You must eliminate or minimise the risk of fatigue, so far as is reasonably practicable. You must consult with workers, and health and safety representatives if you have them, about health and safety issues that may directly affect them. You must also consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with any other duty holders who you share a duty with. 

Workers also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety and health and make sure their acts or omissions don’t adversely affect the health or safety of others. Your PCBU has a duty to keep you and your workplace safe from risks associated with fatigue. You also have a duty to take reasonable care of your safety and that of others in the workplace including ensuring your acts and omissions don’t adversely affect others health and safety. Comply with any reasonable instructions, policies and procedure given by your PCBU at the workplace.

People in the construction industry can often work long hours, doing physically demanding work, which may lead to mental and/or physical exhaustion that reduces the ability to perform work safely and effectively.

It reduces alertness which may lead to errors and can increase the risk of an incidents or injuries for the fatigued worker and others. Particularly when a worker is: 

  • Operating a fixed or mobile plant
  • Working at heights
  • Working with flammable or explosive substances
  • Doing hazardous work e.g. electrical work

Managing the risks of fatigue

As a PCBU, you should manage the risks of fatigue in the workplace by:

  1. Identifying hazards and assessing the risks.
  2. Controlling the risks by eliminating the risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable; and if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate risks to health and safety, minimise those risks so far as is reasonably practicable; and
  3. Reviewing hazards and revising control measures, where necessary, to ensure they’re working as planned.

Identifying hazards and assessing risks

Identifying the hazards that may cause fatigue in the workplace is an important first step. Ways to identify these hazards include: 

  • Consulting workers, managers, supervisors and health and safety representatives – for example, about the impact of workloads. work schedules, work-related travel and work outside normal hours. 
  • Examining work practices, systems of work and worker records – for example, sign-in and sign-out sheets; and 
  • Reviewing data – for example, workplace incident or human resource data. 

Once you have identified the hazards you can then assess the risks. This step may not be necessary if you are dealing with a known risk, with known controls.  

Controlling the risks

Examples of control measures to manage the risks of fatigue include:

  • Work scheduling – for example, schedule safety critical work outside the low body clock periods between 2am and 6am, and 2pm and 4pm. 
  • Managing job demands – for example, structure shifts so work demands are highest in the middle of the shift and decrease towards the end. 
  • Change environmental conditions – for example, eliminate working in heat
  • Consult with workers about managing non-work related causes; and 
  • Implement a workplace fatigue policy. 

Some control measures are more effective than others and you may need to implement a combination of controls to manage the risks of fatigue so far as is reasonably practicable.  

Reviewing hazards and control measures

Once control measures are implemented, they should be monitored and reviewed to make sure they remain effective. Consider implementing trial periods for any new work schedules and encouraging workers to provide feedback on their effectiveness. 

For more information – Head to SafeWork Australia

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