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March 19, 2021

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World Sleep Day: How can employers implement effective fatigue risk management?

Safety consultants Baines Simmons presents a perspective on fatigue in the workplace and fatigue risk management systems.

Sleeping at work19 March marks World Sleep Day, an annual event designed to raise awareness of the “importance of sleep for achieving an optimal quality of life and improved global health”, with this year’s theme being ‘Regular Sleep, Healthy Future’.

One of the central elements of healthy sleep is that sleep occurs regularly – that is going to bed and waking up at approximately the same time, every day. Of course, this is challenging for many – shift workers’ working patterns mean that they must sleep at different times throughout the day, while others lose sleep through the week and try to catch up with a lie-in at the weekend.

With the COVID-19 pandemic further disrupting traditional work patterns, employers need to implement effective controls to manage fatigue in the workplace to improve safety, support employee health and wellbeing, and avoid business costs due to presenteeism and burnout.

There is no one-size fits all solution to managing fatigue. However, employers should consider taking a ‘system-wide’ approach, where both the company and individual employees share the responsibility for ensuring that fatigue is managed. Fatigue cannot be managed without both parties playing their part. Employers should implement training that is tailored to the organisation and considers individual employees’ responsibilities, the environment and working hours. Training programmes must also be nimble and respond to change and provide those responsible for managing fatigue (their own or others) with the competency to respond to change.

For fatigue risk management to be effective, it must be able to detect the effect of all changes, however large or small, as they emerge, so that risk management can be proactive, rather than lagging behind and potentially allowing brief periods of elevated fatigue going unrecognised.

Communication and transparency are also key to drive organisational engagement with a fatigue risk management programme. Communication need not be complicated and could include elements such as replying to all reports of fatigue and letting the reporter know what the outcome of their report has been, and regular sharing of articles from those running fatigue risk management training providing updates on recent activities and mitigations that have been implemented.

When creating a fatigue risk management programme, it is important to involve as many of the workforce as possible to gain their perspectives and feedback on individual employees’ situations. Front line personnel are the ‘operational experts’ and their knowledge of fatigue contributors and the functioning of the organisation can be invaluable in identifying which mitigations are ‘doable’ and will be effective.

There is no ‘quick-win’ to implement an effective system for identifying and managing fatigue risk. It takes time and effort to make your processes and procedures effective, but at that point your organisation and the workforce can reap the benefits from being an organisation in which fatigue is effectively managed.

Data collection is essential – risk cannot be managed without being measured. Multiple sources of data are needed, because they all tell you slightly different things. For example, fatigue reports tend to tell us about unusual events or problems out of an individual’s control such as a poor hotel room on a business trip or crew layover, but they may not reveal day-to-day fatigue levels. A fatigue model gives us information about roster-related fatigue contributors for the average individual but can tell us nothing about fatigue related to people’s home lives, their commute, or workload while on duty.

As part of the data collection process, fatigue risk management systems require proactive, predictive and reactive approaches to identifying fatigue risks, alongside mitigations to be implemented to control fatigue to acceptable levels, performance indicators to be used to track their use, and formal assurance processes to ensure that everything implemented is working as intended.

Burnout podcast

Heather Beach recently sat down with Stacy Thomson, Award Winning Mental Health Nurse & Cognitive Behavioural Coach, to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation. Stacy has worked alongside organisations, executives and leaders in roles within a wide range of fields.

What is it about burnout that makes us susceptible?

Subscribe and tune in the Safety & Health Podcast here.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
3 years ago

Work-stress fatigue manifests in different ways for different people nevertheless, carrying-on regardless is effectively self-harming and not only putting yourself “at risk” but others in the lead-up to debilitating levels of stress-fatigue, cognitive errors, physiological and psychological break-down, ill-health predictably resulting in crashing and burning. 58% of DSE operators reporting eye-strain and other associated MSD’s / MSK’s by 2007 with 50% more children also as users of DSE mirroring adult visual disruptions to their 3D binocular vision over the last couple of decades in the 21st Century. Nevertheless, without compliance with occupational health and “Accessibility Regulation” it looks like post… Read more »