Looking after your wellbeing - How to manage fatigue in the Workplace
12th September 2019
Whether it is caused by a medical condition, working hours, shift patterns or personal circumstances, fatigue is a health and safety risk that can often be overlooked, but must be controlled by employers.
Fans of the recent television series Chernobyl will have been reminded of the devastating consequences of the nuclear explosion in 1986, which was in part found to have been caused by operator error as a result of extreme fatigue. Other well-known major accidents such as the Herald of Free Enterprise (Zeebrugge ferry disaster) in 1987, and the Clapham Junction rail crash in 1988 also found that human error played a part, in both cases with operators being required to perform crucial safety-related tasks having worked excessively long hours, fatigued as a result.
Those operating within high hazard industries such as COMAH sites or nuclear installations will be well-versed in the need to risk assess and manage human factors, including the likelihood of fatigue, as these are often an inherent part of the operator’s statutory safety case or licence conditions. Those within the aviation and rail sectors have also been subject to their own sets of regulations and guidance on the management of fatigue for some time, given the intense focus required for often repetitive, monotonous – but safety critical – tasks that pilots/drivers/engineers and other workers are required to perform over long shift durations.
Whilst fatigue may be considered a greater risk in such industries, particularly in light of links with past major disasters, it is an issue that should nevertheless be considered and addressed by all employers, in keeping with their duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Working Time Regulations 1998 (“WTR”). In combination, these regulations require employers to assess the risks arising from their operations, and the employee workplace, to ensure exposure to fatigue is reduced as far as is reasonably practicable, and that maximum limits are placed on the amount of time employees can work.
Fatigue, as defined, can affect other employees too. It is most commonly described as extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness – and it can be caused by factors outside of the workplace, as well as within it. It will therefore be relevant to consider employees who may be suffering from fatigue as part of a medical condition, illness, or treatment