May 11, 2024 • 9 min read

Workplace Safety's Biggest Hazard is Actually... Fatigue

Discover the dangers of fatigue in the workplace and effective strategies to reduce its safety risks.

Written by: Stephen Zeng

Fatigue is more than just feeling tired. It’s a state of mental and physical exhaustion that can impair one’s ability to work safely and effectively. Whether it’s due to overwork, sleep deprivation, or disruptions to the internal body clock, fatigue poses a significant risk to workplace safety. 

In this article, we’ll delve into the impact of fatigue on workplace safety, explore a recent court case highlighting the cost of workers’ comp injury from work-induced fatigue, and discuss strategies for managing fatigue in the workplace.

Understanding the Impact of Fatigue

Loss of sleep and fatigue can have profound effects on workplace safety. Reduced alertness, impaired judgement, and slower reaction times are just a few consequences of fatigue that can increase the likelihood of accidents and injuries in the workplace.

From operating machinery to driving vehicles or performing hazardous tasks, fatigue can severely compromise workers’ ability to perform their duties safely.

Recognising the Signs and Symptoms

Identifying fatigue in the workplace is crucial for preventing accidents and injuries. Signs of fatigue may include constant yawning, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and changes in behaviour such as arriving late for work or increased unplanned absences.

Additionally, workers may experience physical symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision, indicating the presence of fatigue.

Causes of Fatigue

Fatigue can stem from various factors, including prolonged or intense work tasks, sleep loss, organisational changes, travel, and excessively long shifts. Certain workers, such as shift workers, night workers, and emergency service personnel, are at higher risk due to the nature of their jobs.

The High Cost of Work-induced Fatigue

In a recent case heard by the New South Wales (NSW) Supreme Court, an employee working as an underground coal miner suffered severe injuries in a single-vehicle collision while traveling home from work.

The employee attributed the accident to “work-induced fatigue”, claiming that the nature and conditions of his employment significantly contributed to his state of exhaustion.

On June 30th, the NSW Supreme Court made a decision. The employer had to pay $1,130,782.28, with 30% deducted because the employee was also partly responsible.

Managing Fatigue in the Workplace

“Fatigue poses a hidden threat to workplace safety, affecting workers’ ability to perform their duties safely and effectively. “

To mitigate the risks associated with fatigue, organizations should implement fatigue management plans tailored to their specific work environments. These plans should include measures to identify and assess fatigue-related risks, implement control measures, and periodically review their effectiveness.

By promoting a safe and healthy work environment and providing adequate support and resources, employers can minimise the risk of fatigue-related accidents and injuries.

Source: Safe Work Australia Fatigue Information

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*The details in this article were correct and current when it was written. However, changes in business practices, policies, and other pertinent areas may have occurred since then. Readers should confirm the current validity of the content on their own.

Stephen Zeng
Stephen is the director and the principal writer at AusRehab, leading workplace rehabilitation provider, with a focus on addressing and resolving workplace injuries.

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