What is worker fatigue?

The safety and wellbeing of a site’s workforce is a primary concern and must be properly monitored and managed. Amongst other common safety hazards, worker fatigue should not be something that is overlooked.

“A state of perceived weariness that can result from prolonged working, heavy workload, insufficient rest and inadequate sleep.” – Office of Rail Regulation 2012

The Effects

A construction worker operates in an environment where they are constantly challenged mentally and physically, requiring a constant state of focus and alertness. Paired with the occupation’s need for continual attention comes with a high risk environment where mistakes can be treacherous. A fatigued person results in a state of less alertness, diminished ability to process information and increased decision making and reaction times. It is not only the level of awareness that is affected but also the attitude that suffer. As well as a minimal interest with the job in hand, a fatigued worker may also be inclined to tolerate risks that they would otherwise find unacceptable, avoiding necessary safety measures and a care to safety in general.

Below are some facts (Office of Rail Regulation 2012) that may surprise you with just how much fatigue can affect an individual’s performance:

  • Being awake for around 17 hours has been found to produce impairment on a range of tasks equivalent to that associated with a blood alcohol concentration above the drink driving limit for most of Europe;
  • Poor performance due to fatigue is particularly apparent with repetitive tasks taking longer than 30 minutes to complete;
  • Almost 20% of all accidents on major roads are sleep related;
  • Fatigue cannot be prevented by personality, intellect, skill, motivation or knowledge.

The Law

Employee fatigue is present within the laws of occupational health and safety as per below:

Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA)

Sections 2(1) and 3(1) place general duties on employers to reduce risk so far as is reasonably practicable, this would include risk from staff fatigue

Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR)

Employers must assess risks arising from their operations, which would include risk from staff fatigue, and put in place effective arrangements for planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of these controls

To find out how you can manage worker fatigue, take a look here.

Footer Reference

Office of Rail Regulation. (2012). Managing Rail Staff Fatigue


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