Fatigue

Fatigue makes you feel mentally and/or physically exhausted and reduces your ability to work safely and effectively.

Everyone in the workplace has a duty to make sure fatigue doesn’t create a risk to anyone’s health and safety.

What you need to know

Causes

Generally, both work and non-work factors can lead to fatigue.

Fatigue can be caused by:

  • physically demanding or monotonous work
  • mentally or emotionally demanding work
  • hot, cold or noisy workplaces
  • shift and night work
  • long commuting times
  • poor sleeping and other lifestyle factors.
Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • tiredness, lethargy and irritability
  • headaches and dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • memory loss and inability to concentrate
  • repeated mistakes at work.

How fatigue affects your performance at work can be likened to how alcohol affects your performance.

If you’re awake for 17 hours your performance at work would be impaired at the same level as having a 0.05 blood alcohol content. If you’re awake for 20 hours, it’s the same as having a 0.1 blood alcohol content.

The long-term health effects of fatigue can include high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and depression.

Impact in the workplace

Fatigue can affect safety in the workplace. It can impact on workers’ mental and physical health, as well as the health and safety of those around them, such as co-workers, customers, patients and members of the public.

Fatigue can increase the likelihood of incidents and injuries in the workplace, particularly when doing safety critical tasks where significant consequences may arise if errors occur - for example, when driving a vehicle or doing a medical procedure.

Fatigue can result in reduced productivity and an increase in near misses, incidents and injuries, even when the signs of fatigue may not be obvious.

Workers at risk

Every business can be affected by some degree of work-related fatigue.

Some workers are at a higher risk because their work involves many factors that contribute to fatigue. These workers include:

  • shift workers
  • night workers
  • fly-in, fly-out workers (FIFO)
  • drive in, drive out workers (DIDO)
  • seasonal workers
  • on-call and call-back workers
  • emergency service workers
  • medical professionals and other health workers
  • legal professionals and IT consultants, particularly those working on billable hours.
More information

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

Fatigue management: A worker’s guide (SafeWork Australia)

Work-related psychosocial health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties (SafeWork Australia)

Guidelines for managing heavy vehicle driver fatigue (National Transport Commission)

Managing fatigue (Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator)

Guidance on heavy vehicle driver fatigue (Roads & Maritime Services)

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