Fatigue Accidents: Workplace Culture and Allowing time to Switch-Off

Did you know that Australia is one of the 2nd most workaholic country in the world? According to the Business Insider, only 47% of full time workers take all of their annual leave days owing to them and work an average of 1,690 hours each year! This isn’t good for our health, our productivity or our loved ones outside of work!

With these statistics it’s no wonder that working overtime and having lunch at your desk is an all too common occurrence in many workplaces around the country. While some say the secret to happiness is to be a workaholic, a real concern for these workers is the lack of sleep. Usually sleep is the first item on the chopping block when workaholics try to make room in their busy schedule for both work and play.

A lack of sleep can be a dangerous thing, especially in the workplace.  In this article we take a look at the effects of sleep deprivation in the workplace and what obligations employers and employees have when it comes to managing fatigue. Sleep deprivation is the leading common cause of fatigue and can have serious consequences on one’s health and wellbeing.

Sleep deprivation has been shown to cause:

  • A decline in performance, such as reaction times slowed by up to 50%;
  • A failure to respond to changes;
  • An inability to concentrate and make reasonable judgements.

However, what is perhaps more alarming, and probably not realised by many is:

Both of the above levels are over the legal limit to drive in Australia!

Given the above, it is no wonder that fatigue is also a workplace health and safety risk.

Research shows:

  • 30% of serious accidents are directly related to fatigue;
  • Excessively sleepy or fatigued workers are 70% more likely to be involved in industrial accidents than alert, well rested individuals.

So what are the obligations of employers and employees when it comes to managing fatigue?

While fatigue management is a shared responsibility between employers and employees, it is employers who are responsible for using a risk management approach to manage fatigue.

Employers can manage fatigue by:

  • Limiting overtime to 4 hours for 8 hour shifts and 2 hours for 10 hour shifts;
  • Limiting total hours per week to 55;
  • Limiting the number of consecutive night shifts to 4;
  • Ending night shifts by 8am;
  • Ensuring there is a minimum of 12 hours between consecutive shifts;
  • Ensuring the roster allows for at least two full nights sleep after the last night shift;
  • Having a room for workers to sleep before commuting home;
  • Minimising early morning starts before 6am;
  • Avoiding more than 5 consecutive early morning starts;
  • Avoiding safety critical tasks during the early hours of the morning (3am-5am).

If an employer fails to adequately manage fatigue and an employee is injured then that employee may be able to bring a claim for negligence against their employer.

Employees too can do their part to reduce the likelihood of suffering from fatigue.

For example:

  • For night shift workers:
    • Don’t eat after 3am;
    • Avoid large meals 1-2 hours before sleeping;
    • Avoid high energy (high fat), high carbohydrate meals during the night shift’
    • Have an afternoon nap before night shift;
    • Avoid caffeine after midnight
  • Plan your social activities to ensure you get sufficient sleep before starting work;
  • If you perform a second job ensure you are able to get adequate sleep in relation to both jobs;
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other chemicals that interfere with sleep 3 to 6 hours before bedtime;
  • Lighten up on evening meals or finish dinner several hours before sleep to allow your body time to digest the food.

It is absolutely crucial that fatigue be managed in the workplace by both employers and employees.

Employers have a duty to manage fatigue in the workplace and should they fail in this duty then they may be liable to an injured employee for negligence.

Worker fatigue causes 10,000 serious workplace accidents each year. This is not surprising given the seriousness that sleep deprivation has on one’s ability to function as well as the effect is has on their health. A lack of sleep has been linked to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, high blood pressure, a compromise in the immune system, contributes to obesity and severely impairs your mental judgement.

Perhaps this is something that the 47% of Australian full time workers who don’t take their entitled annual leave each year should keep in mind!

If you have suffered a workplace injury and think you may be entitled to make a claim, check out our workers compensation page for more information on your rights, or fill out a free case review form.

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