Workplace Fatigue

Resources and prevention strategies to manage fatigue in the workplace.

About the Issue

In occupational health and safety, there is no single definition of fatigue. Most often, fatigue is thought of as a state of being very tired or sleepy, however fatigue encompasses not only physical, but mental and subjective states too.

 

It can occur during intense prolonged physical or mental activity, while performing repetitive or boring tasks or from prolonged exposure to stress and anxiety. Not only is fatigue a serious issue, it is also widespread (especially among shift workers and night-shift workers). Lack of sleep, or insufficient sleep, can lead to a variety of adverse health outcomes such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and workplace injuries.

 

A pattern of physical and mental strain can take a toll on our well-being, our ability to care for others and our health and safety at work. Fatigue has been identified as an emerging hazard, and as workplaces begin to understand the impact that it can have on safety and productivity, they are looking for solutions.

Background

 

Signs and symptoms of fatigue may vary. According to CCOHS, signs of fatigue include the following:

  • weariness
  • tiredness
  • falling asleep against your will
  • irritability
  • reduced alertness, concentration and memory
  • lowered productivity
  • lack of motivation
  • mental and/or physical tiredness
  • depression
  • boredom
  • headaches
  • loss of appetite
  • digestive problems
  • compromised immune system

Impacts on Workplace Health and Safety

 

Fatigue is not always visible and therefore is not often recognized as a contributor to workplace hazards and risks. However, fatigue is considered a form of impairment and has significant impacts on workplace health and safety. What most individuals consider to be human error is actually a sign of fatigue. It leads to lower productivity, increases the rate of accidents and injuries, can result in poor decision-making and leads to absenteeism.

 

Research has shown that the number of hours an individual is awake can be compared to levels of intoxication. For example, 17 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05 and 24–25 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.10. With such levels of intoxication, it would be considered unwise to operate a vehicle or heavy machinery or even to make important decisions; the same is true with high levels of fatigue.

Current Efforts

There is currently no legislation around fatigue. However, using your best judgement and being aware of the signs and symptoms of workplace fatigue helps employers, supervisors and workers to minimize the effects of fatigue on worker performance and workplace hazards and risks.

Your Role in Addressing the Issue

 

Employers have a duty to promote a healthy workplace. This involves ensuring work demands are reasonable and that the work environment does not contribute to fatigue. Training on identifying and managing fatigue should be provided to workers and supervisors, and an insurance plan that covers sleep disorders should be offered.

 

Workers must also do their best to prioritize sleep and ensure they come to work ready and able each day. Since a lot of what causes fatigue go beyond the workplace, workers should strive to get the proper amount of sleep each night and take steps to minimize factors that put them at risk of feeling fatigue.

 

There are many factors that contribute to feeling fatigued. Some of these factors include health conditions, insufficient or poor-quality sleep, work demands and lack of adequate breaks during a shift. Although it is unlikely to be able to eliminate fatigue completely, implementing a fatigue management plan is an excellent way to reduce the risk of work-related injury caused by this emerging issue.

Next Steps

 

PSHSA’s Fatigue Management Program is a turnkey solution based on scientific evidence that workplaces can easily implement into their current business practices. Our expert staff work with organizations to help them choose from a variety of options — from building awareness to implementing a complete fatigue risk management program.

 

Recently PSHSA also completed a pilot study on identifying fatigue levels in organizations across sectors in Ontario. The study was conducted using wearable technology to identify fatigue levels, understand sleep patterns in workers and predict alertness scores. Organizations were then provided with a report to help create awareness and knowledge around fatigue in the workplace.

 

Visit PSHSA's Healthy Workers webpage for more information on how to build awareness and reduce the risk of fatigue-related incidents in your workplace.

 

If you are looking for more information regarding fatigue in the workplace contact Maryam Khan, Health and Safety Consultant, at mkhan@pshsa.ca

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