Fatigue is more than feeling tired and drowsy.

Fatigue is a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion that reduces a worker's ability to perform work safely and effectively.

Fatigue may increase the risk of incidents because of a lack of alertness and slower reaction times. It can also affect the worker’s ability to make good decisions.

Everyone in the workplace can help to make sure fatigue does not become a risk to health and safety.

Causes of fatigue

Fatigue is caused by all activities carried out when a person is awake. Generally, several cumulative and inter-related factors cause fatigue.

Fatigue can be caused by:

  • prolonged or intense mental or physical activity
  • sleep loss or disruption of your internal body clock
  • long shifts
  • short recovery times between shifts
  • strenuous jobs
  • long commuting times
  • poor sleep
  • family demands.

Workers at high risk of fatigue

Some workers are at higher risk of fatigue because their work involves many of the factors which contribute to fatigue. These 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.

Managing the risk of fatigue

There may not be obvious signs of fatigue at your workplace (eg decreasing productivity or a rise in injuries). This does not mean it isn’t occurring or that factors which may increase the risk of fatigue are not present.

The first step in the risk management process is to identify all factors which can increase the risk of fatigue. Some of the major factors contributing to fatigue include:

  • work schedules, such as shift work
  • job demands, such as strenuous or repetitive work
  • sleep patterns of workers
  • environmental conditions, such as extreme temperatures or noise.

Consultation with workers is required to determine the current risk of fatigue in your workplace. Discuss possible hazard reduction measures or elimination. If fatigue is a hazard that can’t be eliminated, then you need to proactively manage it with your workers.

Safe Work Australia

Safe Work Australia's guide for managing the risk of fatigue at work and fatigue management provides practical guidance for employers and other duty holders on how to manage fatigue so it does not contribute to health and safety risks.

The guide contains information that can be applied to all types of work and workplaces covered by the NSW Work Health and Safety Act 2011. It is not designed to provide information on managing fatigue in specific industries and does not replace requirements related to fatigue under other laws, for example heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws or rail safety requirements.

More resources

More information is available in the National Transport Commission's guidelines for managing heavy vehicle driver fatigue and the National Rail Safety Regulator's guidance on fatigue risk management program.

Guidance on heavy vehicle driver fatigue is available on the Road Maritime Services website.

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