Managing the risk of fatigue

Employees that do night or shift work are more prone to fatigue than employees with 9-5 jobs and employers in all industries should understand the necessary precautions they need to put in place to ensure their workers are not affected.  Fatigue plays a major factor in accidents as workers lose concentration, have slower response times and are generally less alert in their situation.  Work involving machinery that has a specified pace and work that is complex, monotonous or requires a lot of attention can also significantly increase the risk of fatigue.

There are other factors that can contribute to the risk of fatigue including stress, working when ill or when taking certain medications to combat these illnesses.  However most cases are the result of poor management between work time and rest time; working long hours and poorly balanced shift work schedules.

In order to prevent this, it is essential that employers in the industries where night/shift work takes place are monitoring this with their staff.  Fatigue can be difficult to measure so an individual approach can be taken to assess the risks within the various industries.

Guidelines and Tools for Management to assess Fatigue Risks

In the United Kingdom, there are mandates and legislation in place to protect those that work in safety critical jobs.  In the railway industry specifically, the employer is required to follow legislation according to the Railway and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006.  All other industries would need to comply with the employers general duties of the Health and Safety Act 1974.  Understanding this, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK, have developed an assessment tool which can help organisations asses the levels of fatigue.  Many organisations have different working patterns and employee profiles so these need to be taken into consideration accordingly.

It is important to remember that although employees may express an interest to work longer hours to do whatever it takes to get the job done, this may not be in everyone’s best interests.  Many people do not know how to correctly assess their own fatigue levels so in order to prevent accidents and mistakes this is something employer should take responsibility for.  Various case studies have proven that in shift working patterns the risk of accidents occurring during the first 8 or 9 hours remains constant but after 12 hours the risk doubles and is likely to treble after 16 hours.

Ways to reduce fatigue risks with your employees

  • Ensure they get  8 hours of sleeping  between shifts, taking travelling times into consideration too.
  • If they sleep in staff quarters on site, for example on an oil rig, they should be able to have a good quality sleep without interruption or noise.
  • Ensure workers do not work too many nights in a row when doing night shifts.
  • Rotate shifts forwards from mornings to afternoon to nights where necessary to ensure employees don’t lose time and sleep.
  • Ensure there is good lighting, as much natural air flow as possible and a variation in noise to reduce risk factors.
  • Work with individual preferences of employees where possible as some people are more productive in the morning than at night and vice versa.

Those responsible for planning shift work should always consider the guidelines for managing shift work in the Health and Safety Guidance (HSG 256) as this will reflect legal duties in the UK and background information on this matter.  To further assist you in evaluating the fatigue risks within your organisation the Fatigue and Risk Index by the HSE has been designed to compare different shift schedules.  Although this is a useful tool, it should not be the only tool you use to assess the risks within your organisation.

Coyle Group are positioned to provide a combination of expertise in recruiting and safety by integrating these services to deliver a world class solution which will add value, increase efficiency and ultimately reduce costs.  We supply key HSE staff in the Energy, Power Generation and Engineering sectors, so if you need assistance with the evaluation of your current Health and Safety systems and procedures and the staff to ensure these are optimised, then please get in touch and we will be happy to help you.

Coyle Group | UK & Ireland

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