Managing fatigue in the workplace

At some stage, we have all experienced workplace fatigue. It can lead to slower reaction times, reduced energy and concentration, absent-mindedness, decreased awareness and a lack of attention. The effects of fatigue will heighten risks and can ultimately lead to accidents, injury and employee ‘burnout’ – which is perhaps why the World Health Organization now classifies burnout as a workplace disease, says Mark Littlejohns.

Mistakes and incidents caused by fatigue also have serious costs or implications to employers. The HSE estimate that work related fatigue is said to cost the UK £115 – £240 million per year alone.  

Managing fatigue in the workplace is extremely important, especially in industries where safety is paramount.  Recent cases where fatigue was listed as a contributing factor include the collapse of a North Sea helicopter’s landing gear and a track worker killed by a passenger train in south London. 

Some of the more notable major incidents resulting from fatigue include the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise, Clapham Junction rail crash and the Chernobyl power plant explosion. 

What employers can be doing to manage fatigue in the workplace 

Just like all workplace hazards, fatigue needs to be managed appropriately and employers must be able to demonstrate that any risk is effectively controlled. Many factors can contribute to a decline in mental or physical performance, including working excessive hours, erratic shift patterns, medical conditions or even personal circumstances.  

HSG256 sets out clear guidance and a variety of approaches for managing fatigue which can relate to all sectors. 

As an employer, you can also:  

  • produce and enforce a policy that limits working hours, overtime and shift-swapping 
  • ensure workloads are appropriate to the length of a shift 
  • increase supervision during high risk periods – late night, early morning 
  • train supervisors with responsibility for shift-working arrangements – make them aware of the risks and how to recognise signs of fatigue 
  • carry out a fatigue risk assessment – use the HSE’s Fatigue and Risk Index Tool 

If you have any question or would like further support on this topic, please get in touch.