Fit to work
Dedicated to the health of all workers
Extended hours of work
Extended work hours can affect the amount of time available for adequate sleep opportunity. It is important to monitor the amount of hours workers are doing each day. You can ensure workers aren’t required to work unnecessary extended hours by:
- ensuring sufficient cover for workers who are on annual or sick leave
- if overtime is necessary, plan for it so workers can schedule their activities around it
Where considering overtime:
- Limit overtime to four hours for eight hour shifts.
- Limit overtime to two hours for shifts longer than 10 hours.
- Do not allow overtime for shifts longer than 12 hours.
- Limit total hours per week to 55.
- Have a policy on second jobs – ensure that the worker understands the obligation to get sufficient sleep and to be fit for duty.
Shift work can be a contributing factor in work-related fatigue. Ensure the roster provides for a continuous seven to eight hours sleep in each 24 hours, and at least 50 hours sleep for every seven days.
If on a rotating three shift roster system, forward rotation (day, afternoon to night shifts) is tolerated better.
When determining your work schedules:
- limit number of consecutive night shifts to four to minimise accident risk.
- end night shifts by 8am.
- ensure there is a minimum of 12 hours between consecutive shifts.
- ensure that roster allows for at least two full nights sleep after the last night shift.
- allow short naps of no longer than 15–20 minutes if it fits in with the type of work that is being done.
- consider whether 12 hour night shifts are really necessary.
- use additional control measures, such as two hourly breaks of at least five to ten minutes duration.
- have a room for workers to sleep before commuting home.
- encourage healthy eating at work and provide access to healthy food options at work to minimise health risks.
Time of day
Minimise early morning starts before 6am as workers have less time to get adequate sleep – it is very difficult to go to sleep during the early evening (6–9pm) as our body clocks are set to alertness at that time.
- Avoid more than five consecutive early morning starts.
- Encourage carpooling or provide transport.
Roster and work design
Consider the following:
- increasing supervision
- allow regular breaks
- length of shifts – depends on physical and mental load of the work
- distribution of leisure time – allow for adequate rest and recovery
- regularity of shift system – allows workers to prepare for work
- previous hours and days worked – the effects of fatigue are cumulative, workers may have sleep debt due to the length of previous shifts. Giving workers two successive full days off within a seven day period allows them to catch up on their night sleep
- type of work being performed – pay particular attention to the level of physical and/or mental effort required
- time of the day when the work is being performed – avoid safety critical tasks during the early hours of the morning (3-5am).
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To work safely, workers should be physically and mentally alert. This means that fatigue is a potential risk. Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) and workers have a responsibility to manage fatigue at work.
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What Causes Worker Fatigue?
Several factors including too little, poor quality or interrupted sleep over a period of time can cause fatigue. Fatigue is the body's signal that a rest period is needed. Long work hours and extended and irregular shifts may be stressful physically, mentally and emotionally. The body operates on a circadian rhythm sleep/wake cycle. It is naturally programmed for sleeping during night hours. Demanding work schedules may disrupt the body's natural cycle, leading to increased fatigue, stress and lack of concentration.
What are the Effects of Demanding Work Schedules?
Long work hours and extended and irregular shifts may lead to fatigue and to physical and mental stress. Working extended shifts may also involve prolonged exposure to potential health hazards such as noise, chemicals, and others. These exposures could exceed established permissible exposure limits (PELs) or violate other health standards. Employers must implement measures to monitor and limit worker exposures to health and physical hazards in the workplace as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
What Worker Population Does This Affect?
Irregular and extended shifts are common among healthcare providers, transportation workers, first responders, firefighters, police officers, military personnel, construction workers, oil field workers, service and hospitality workers and many others.
What Are the Effects of Worker Fatigue?
- Worker fatigue increases the risk for illnesses and injuries. Accident and injury rates1 are 18% greater during evening shifts and 30% greater during night shifts when compared to day shifts. Reseach indicates that working 12 hours per day is associated with a 37% increased risk of injury2. In a 2005 study reporting on a survey of 2737 medical residents, every extended shift scheduled in a month increased by 16.2 % monthly risk of a motor vehicle crash during their commute home from work.
- Decreased alertness from worker fatigue has been a contributing factor in:
- Industrial disasters such as the 2005 Texas City BP oil refinery explosion, the 2009 Colgan Air Crash, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.
- Increased sleep problems and risk for injury1 among full-time employees in relation to the number of hours worked per week.
- Errors in patient care, increased needlesticks and exposure to blood and other body fluids and increased occupational injuries among healthcare workers.
- Direct or indirect links to increased costs3 from lost productivity, increased injury and illness costs, increased time off the job due to illness and increased workers' compensation costs.
- An estimated annual cost of $136.4 billion from fatigue-related, health-related lost productive work time to employers4.
How Can Fatigue Affect Worker Safety and Health?
Fatigue can cause weariness, sleepiness, irritability, reduced alertness, impaired decision making, and lack of motivation, concentration and memory. Studies have shown that fatigue is linked to health problems such as:
- Heart disease
- Stomach and digestive problems
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Reproductive problems
- Some cancers (breast and prostate)
- Sleep disorders
- Poor eating habits/obesity
- Worsening of existing chronic diseases such as diabetes and epilepsy
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- Risk factors for occupational fatigue include long work hours, a heavy workload, lack of sleep, environmental factors and medical conditions.
- Experts say employers can help combat fatigue by offering breaks, scheduling work when employees are most alert and promoting the importance of sleep.
- The National Safety Council has launched an initiative about fatigue, gathering data with the aim of identifying solutions and releasing a policy toolkit and other resources.
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Recognizing the signs of burnout before it's too late
Burnout is one of those road hazards in life that high-achievers really should be keeping a close eye out for, but sadly—often because of their "I can do everything" personalities—they rarely see it coming. Because high-achievers are often so passionate about what they do,
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Techniques for Dealing with Overwhelming Stress
If constant stress has you feeling helpless, disillusioned, and completely exhausted, you may be on the road to burnout. When you’re burned out, problems seem insurmountable, everything looks bleak, and it’s difficult to muster up the energy to care—let alone do something to help yourself.
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