January 2014 - Managing Fatigue

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From truck drivers and equipment operators to office workers and service people, most of us have worked late, put in the overtime, or given up a weekend to meet a deadline.

Once in a while it might not be that big a deal. However, stretching yourself too thin will eventually catch up with you. Being tired can cause all sorts of problems and create risks that may not be obvious, but can have serious consequences.

Add time demands from your personal life (family, money, travel) to the workload pressures and you have a recipe for fatigue.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is the state of feeling very tired, weary or sleepy resulting from insufficient sleep, prolonged mental or physical work, or extended periods of stress or anxiety. Boring or repetitive tasks can intensify feelings of fatigue.

Sometimes, a sleep disorder may cause fatigue. You should ask your doctor or health professional for more information. These conditions include:

  • Sleep Apnea
  • Insomnia
  • Restless Legs Syndrome
  • Narcolepsy

Is fatigue a workplace issue?

Research studies have shown that when workers have slept for less than 5 hours before work or when workers have been awake for more than 16 hours, their chance of making mistakes at work due to fatigue are significantly increased.

Other research has shown that the number of hours awake can be similar to blood alcohol levels. WorkSafeBC reports the following:

  • 17 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.05
  • 21 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.08 (legal limit in Canada)
  • 24-25 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.10

Sleep deficit has been linked to large scale events such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Most incidents occur when people are more likely to want sleep – between midnight and 6 am, and between 1-3 pm.

What are the effects of fatigue?

  • reduced decision-making ability
  • reduced communication skills
  • reduced productivity / performance
  • reduced attention and vigilance
  • reduced ability to handle stress on the job
  • reduced reaction time - both in speed and thought
  • increased errors in judgment
  • increased sick time, absenteeism, rate of turnover
  • increased medical costs and
  • increased incident rates

Learnings and Suggestions: 
  • Build fatigue management into your safety program. Set clear expectations about not working while impaired by fatigue. Open two way communication between all workers will help identify opportunities to reduce fatigue.
  • Long commutes and drives at work often lead to feeling tired. Taking breaks to get some fresh air and get the muscles moving helps drivers stay alert.
  • Consider having a co-pilot in the passenger seat who is trained up to help identify road hazards, use the 2 way radio and keep the driver engaged.
  • The best remedy for fatigue is sleep. Don’t push it when you are impaired by fatigue; stop and rest until you are ready to work again. Find out what causes your fatigue and work to fix it.

For more information on this submitted alert: 

Information & Resources

Speaking of Safety blog with links to fatigue resources:

Fatigue Survey of British Columbia Truck Drivers (WorkSafeBC):

Work Schedules and Fatigue (WorkSafeBC):

Health & Safety Executive (HSE) – Briefing note on Fatigue (from the British Government):

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