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Dr Karen McDonnell is head of RoSPA Scotland & Occupational Health and Safety Policy Adviser. She is also the immediate past president of IOSH.
April 4, 2023

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Culture and behaviours

RoSPA’s top ten tips to address fatigue at work

Dr Karen McDonnell, RoSPA’s Occupational Health and Safety Policy Adviser and Head of RoSPA Scotland, offers advice on how employers can tackle the vital issue of fatigue.

driver fatigueFatigue is a major but under-recognised hazard in the workplace, adversely affecting workers’ health, safety and wellbeing as well as overall organisational effectiveness. Fatigue contributes significantly to accidents at work, at home, on the road and in other settings. It damages health and significantly reduces quality of life.

Driver fatigue is a serious problem.

Department for Transport research suggests that it may be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents, and up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents.

Sleepiness increases reaction time, which is a critical element of safe driving. It also reduces vigilance, alertness and concentration so that the ability to perform attention-based activities is impaired.

The speed at which information is processed and the quality of decision-making are also hindered by fatigue.

According to the Sleep Charity it is estimated that 40% of the population suffer with sleep issues which can impact significantly on day-to-day life.

It has found that a worker sleeping less than six hours a night loses around six working days due to absenteeism or presenteeism per year more than a worker sleeping seven to nine hours.

So, how can employers start to address the issue of fatigue?

Here are our top ten tips:

  1. Sleeping at workFully consult with your workforce and their representatives about the organisation’s overall approach and your programmes of work to address the problem of fatigue
  2. Develop and communicate a clear policy that destigmatises fatigue
  3. Deliver workplace awareness-raising about fatigue and how to avoid it, including steps to improve and maintain good health and good sleep hygiene
  4. Train both line and middle managers to raise their awareness and help them to develop necessary interpersonal skills to engage with individuals about fatigue and the issues involved
  5. Take account of fatigue in all risk assessment processes, particularly for safety critical work, which includes driving
  6. Review fatigue as a possible causal factor in all accidents and incidents
  7. Consider any difficulties in travel to and from work which may contribute to fatigue
  8. Avoid workers driving when dangerously tired, both when driving for work and driving to and from work
  9. Engage outside experts to help
  10. Ensure appropriate occupational health support

Shift work

Crashes caused by tired drivers are most likely to happen after having less sleep than normal, after long working hours or on journeys home after long shifts, especially night shifts. By taking advantage of more favourable patterns and allowing sufficient recovery time, it is possible to balance the needs of both worker and workplace. This can lead not only to a reduced likelihood of fatigue-based human error leading to accidents, but also to optimised alertness and decision making.

night-constructionRoSPA recommends that employers should:

  • Ensure that workers have the opportunity to have enough time between shifts to sleep as well as to attend to all the tasks of daily living
  • Restrict consecutive night shifts to a maximum of two to three, or two 12-hour shifts; and allowing at least two days off after the last night shift in a string of such shifts
  • Always rotate shifts forward (early shifts changing to afternoons and afternoons changing to nights)
  • Avoid long shift patterns and limit overtime.

RoSPA is responsible for the delivery of the Scottish Occupational Road Safety Alliance (ScORSA), an initiative relating to those who drive or ride for work. Membership is free and is open to individuals and organisations worldwide. Find out more information here.

Access RoSPA’s road safety guidance here.

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Nigel Evelyn-dupree
Nigel Evelyn-dupree
8 months ago

The Elephant in the room expediently ignored for decades and particularly in the 21st Digital Century as performance anxiety has driven 24/7 ON culture omitting formal breaks every ’90’ minutes including an hours break mid-shift extended from ‘8’ to ’12’ hours or longer, exceeding working hour directive with, for far too many spending ‘9’ on sub-optimally calibrated display screen devices.

Now wonder screen fatigue leading to Computer Vision Syndrome, myopic and asthenopic disease now classified by the WHO in their 2016 ’10th’ revision of International Diseases.