Fatigue in the workplace

Fatigue is a common problem in workplaces and can greatly increase health and safety risks for workers.

Worker Fatigue

Fatigued workers can cause harm to themselves and others through impaired judgement and reduced capacity to perform their work. Workers who are fatigued may have a slower reaction time or be unable to make good decisions.

Fatigue can also lower the immune system, leading to illness, and can result in long-term health effects, such as heart disease.

Anyone who does not receive adequate quality sleep is susceptible to fatigue. Depending on the nature of their work, this could carry a high degree of risk.

Are your workers susceptible to fatigue?
Workers more likely to experience fatigue are those who:

  • undertake shift work;
  • have excessive working hours, e.g. 10‚ ¨12 hours per day or more than 50 hours per week;
  • have significant demands outside the workplace, e.g. family or carer’s responsibilities; or
  • have an illness or injury.

If a worker’s fatigue causes an injury to themselves or others in the workplace, the injured worker will be able to claim workers’ compensation.

Dangers of fatigue in high-risk workplaces
High-risk workplaces include those where workers:

  • operate machinery or equipment;
  • drive a vehicle, such as a truck or forklift;
  • undertake complex processes; and
  • handle hazardous materials.

As part of your health and safety obligations, you must ensure that workers are able to carry out the inherent requirements of their job. This is known as a fitness for work assessment.

This involves observing and communicating with your workers to ensure they are able to perform their work.

What are the warning signs of fatigue?

Look out for these warning signs in your workers:

  • excessive yawning;
  • red eyes;
  • irritability;
  • lack of focus;
  • slow response times;
  • poor work performance; and
  • workers taking micro sleeps (short sleeps lasting 4‚ ¨5 seconds).

What should you do if a worker is fatigued?
If a worker appears to be fatigued, consider sending them home. They may be entitled to paid personal or annual leave.

Make sure the worker is able to travel home safely. Consider calling a taxi if they appear unfit to drive.

Remember, if you allow a fatigued worker to continue working in a high-risk workplace, you may be in breach of your duty to provide a safe work environment.


Sourced from Health and Safety Handbook – Joanna Weekes on October 7th, 2014