As May is the month we celebrate Workers’ Day, we at Cairnmead Industrial Consultants are proudly committed to safety in the workplace — at all levels. Fatigue is as important an issue as safety training is around fires and affects people at all levels of many organisations. The onward impact of an accident related to fatigue has potentially disastrous repercussions for many more people than just the affected individual.

There are the obvious repercussions to workplace fatigue beyond hazardous accidents and absenteeism; it is the lack of productivity among a tired workforce that impacts the organization in many, massive ways.

What is worker fatigue?

Fatigue is a state of impaired mental and/or physical performance and lowered alertness that can be due to a range of contributing factors:

  • Inadequate restorative sleep
  • Working at times when the body should be getting sleep
  • Extensive physical and/or mental exertion

The effects of worker fatigue is often a significant cost that many businesses simply absorb because it is part of “working hard” and is something that’s often difficult to accurately identify. Remember: Fatigue can have deadly consequences, especially in environments where a loss of alertness can threaten the health and safety of the employee directly, and those around them.

Did you know?

  • 90% of sleep problems go untreated
  • Sleep disorders contribute to occupational fatigue and therefore a higher risk of injuries
  • Driver fatigue accounts for almost 20% of all car crashes worldwide
  • Sleep deprivation can impair focus in greater ways than alcohol does:
    • A lack of sleep for over 17 hours is comparable to having a blood-alcohol level of 0.05%
    • A lack of sleep for over 24 hours is twice that, at 0.10%

There are two ways that occupational fatigue leads to health-related productivity loss:

1. Absenteeism

Workers who are in poor health tend to take more time off from work to consult their doctors in order to get some time to recuperate. Once they return to work however, they are still exposed to the factors that can lead to occupational fatigue, making it a continuous cycle.

2. Presenteeism

These are fatigued workers who are present at work, but are not able to perform well or to their full capacity because of health reasons.

Occupational fatigue usually plays out in the following order:

  1. First, the fatigued worker will experience decreased cognitive performance.
  2. Microsleeps or nodding off starts to occur as the body uncontrollably tries to get some sleep, and
  3. Risk of injuries at the workplace starts to increase as a consequence of the above two.

Total annual cost of the impact of fatigue: R2,350,000.00

AbsenteeismDecreased ProductivityHealthcare
R442,000.00R1,100,000.00R808,000.00

In South Africa, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BECA) stipulates mandatories about maximum working hours per day and rest periods between shifts in order to manage fatigue.

To help combat the impact and effects of fatigue in the workplace, companies can:

  • Develop a comprehensive Fit For Work (FFW) standard to manage fatigue
  • Assign FFW responsibilities to a senior manager
  • Set up a committee to effectively manage a relevant site fatigue program
  • Use KPIs to measure effective procedures, performance and response to issues in this area
  • Monitor how much work any one employee is taking on, both within and/or outside of the organisation
  • Establish a set of recourse protocols for employees with fatigue concerns so that these can be managed proactively and effectively

There are many, easy-to-introduce tips on how to manage an alertness program.

  • Develop a tips manual that you make readily available. This should provide adequate information and the steps that concerned employees should take or who to contact should they have a problem
  • Implement job rotation where possible
  • Enforce adequate, well-timed breaks
  • Monitor and encourage appropriate stimulation
  • Where appropriate, introduce a strategic napping policy with appropriate facilities

Don’t let worker fatigue be something your organisation isn’t ready for. If you would like more information or to hear more about the ways in which we can help, contact us and let us put our combined 267 years’ experience to work for you.

Christof Lourens

CEO Cairnmead Industrial Consultants (Pty) Ltd

Tel: 012 346 5752 | Email: christof@cairnmead.co.za

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