fatigue management in the workplace

What You Need To Know About Fatigue Management

Fatigue management plays an important role in all businesses in any industry. Every business and industry is affected to some degree by fatigue. However, some types of work and some sectors have an inherently higher risk of fatigue, particularly when shift work is part of their business model.

This blog post gives you a brief overview on how to enhance your capability with respect to identifying, intervening and managing the demands of your work and how you manage your fatigue and sleep for better physical and mental wellbeing.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is a complex concept as it involves a number of psychological and behavioural processes. However, a recognised and generally supported definition is that: 

  • – Fatigue is an overwhelming sense of tiredness, lack of energy and a feeling of exhaustion 
  • – Associated with impaired physical and/or cognitive functioning 
  • – Must be distinguished from symptoms of depression (which include a lack of self-esteem, sadness and despair or hopelessness) 
  • – It is more than just feeling tired and drowsy.

What causes fatigue?

Fatigue can occur because of prolonged mental or physical activity, sleep loss and/or disruption of the internal body clock. Specifically: 

  • – Excessive physical exertion (strenuous/ prolonged such as is seen in emergency situations) 
  • – Excessive mental exertion (including intense emotional strain) 
  • – Inadequate sleep quantity 
  • – Poor sleep quality (disrupted & lost sleep) 
  • – Circadian rhythm disturbance (e.g. Working nights; Jet lag)
  • – Medical conditions 
  • – Medications and/or supplements 
  • – Inadequate food/water intake or poor nutrition 
  • – Environmental conditions (including low light levels; periods of monotonous, boring activities, heat) 
  • – Any combination of the above

Fatigue management and shiftwork

Shift work is a major feature of modern work practices. It involves individuals working at times considered unconventional for most workers, such as at night. 

Shift work involves the alternation of teams of workers each working a certain “shift” (the hours at work), and who usually perform the same work duties so that operations can be continued and in most cases provide 24 hours of operation. 


manage fatigue in the workplace

Negative Effects of Shift Work

Quality and Quantity of Sleep: Shift workers on average get 5-6 hours of sleep when sleeping during the day. This means a sleep debt builds of 1-2 hours a day and they have increased sleepiness and fatigue. 

Physical Health: Shift workers have an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, gastrointestinal disorders, and cancer (the International Agency for Research on Cancer has deemed shift work as a probable carcinogen). 

Mental Health: There is reported increased stress and decreased quality of life with shift work and working irregular schedules. Studies have suggested that sleep loss and fatigue have detrimental effects on mood and that mood is more sensitive to the effects of sleep disturbance than either cognitive or motor performance. The impact from missed socialisation and family time also has a significant impact on mental health and well-being.

Inadequate sleep and prolonged wakefulness are also blamed for feelings of increased irritability, anxiety, and depression, mood states typically seen in sleep disorders. In addition, individuals may become more prone to disordered thinking (hallucinations, delusions, suicidal ideation) and more susceptible to mental illnesses or find already existing mental conditions intensified after experiencing disrupted sleep or extended wakefulness. Shift workers tend to suffer from poorer family and social relationships than non-shift workers because their work times are often in conflict with societal and family expectations. 

Social Life: Often family life goes on and does not fit with the sleep-wake-work cycle of the shift worker. 

Errors and Accidents: Increased risk of making errors and risk of accidents. 

fatigue management in the workplace

Impacts of fatigue on performance and workplace safety

Research shows some of the following impacts of fatigue:

Learning and academic performance: Poor declarative and procedural learning in students, but once sleep was optimized, improvement in academic performance noted

Vigilance: Feedback blunting could be caused by general, downstream impairments from loss of vigilant attention due to sleep deprivation

Reaction time: Greater subjective reliance on avoidance as a coping strategy was associated with greater deterioration in performance

Personal injury: Decreased duration of sleep led to increased work-related injuries

Traffic accidents: Increased risk of traffic accidents, Increased traffic accidents among doctors, more likely to be involved in vehicular crashes, increased auto accidents, increased car accidents among adolescents

Industrial accidents: Increased workplace injuries and evidence of behavioural shifts including communication, situation awareness, problem-solving, teamwork and adherence to processes

Decision making: Deterioration in decision-making, less effective in making decisions

Moral judgement: Moral reasoning was severely impaired during partial sleep deprivation, lack of sleep is associated with low moral awareness

Fatigue management in the workplace

According to Safe Work Australia, the risks associated with fatigue can be managed by following a systematic process which involves:

  • – identifying the factors which may cause fatigue in the workplace
  • – if necessary, assessing the risks of injury from fatigue
  • – controlling risks by implementing the most effective control measures reasonably practicable in the circumstances, and
  • – reviewing control measures to ensure they are working as planned.

  • Measures to manage the risks associated with fatigue will vary from one workplace to the next, depending on the nature of the work, environmental conditions and individual factors.

    Workplaces should also focus on reviewing the psychosocial risks that exacerbate fatigue, poor nutrition, sleep and teamwork.  Psychosocial risk assessments and reviews of rosters are important start points.

fatigue management in shift work

Interested to learn more about fatigue management?

At Performance Science, we consult with people who have the hardest jobs, the longest hours and the most overwhelming stresses.

From high-reliability organisations and complex hazard facilities across mining, oil and gas, military, police and emergency services, our role is to identify key areas of risk in your organisation, tailor evidence-based solutions to build high performance and support mental health.

In our fatigue management workshop, you’ll learn:

  • – What fatigue is and how it impacts your work performance, safety and well-being;
  • – How to get a good night’s sleep and prepare for shiftwork;
  • – How to integrate fatigue research and knowledge into how you lead and work with others; and
  • – How you should better manage your fatigue and sleep.

Contact us for more information here.


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