Safety Seminar on Fatigue Management

CTC’s latest Seminar in its Safety Series was held on Wednesday 6th March. The topic: “Controlling fatigue risks to improve workplace health, safety and wellbeing” was delivered by Teegan Modderman, Director of Pyschological Health at Workplace Health & Safety Queensland.

Teegan drew on her own considerable experience, both personal and work related, to discuss the dangers of fatigue and how to identify and control the risks through a safety management approach.

It’s a sobering thought that 30% of vehicle fatalities have been caused by a fatigue-related error.

The more fatigued you become, the more physical signs you show and the more errors you make. People can have micro-sleeps without knowing. So although you may have strategies to keep awake while driving, your body may shut down and you can’t stop it.

The only effective way to keep awake is to have enough sleep. This is especially a problem with shift workers.

When considering the origins of shift work we go as far back as Biblical times when shepherds tended flocks day and night. Roman armies attacked during the night while the enemy was sleeping. The Industrial Revolution was the start of machinery being operated for long hours to remain viable.

In today’s environment, there’s a 24/7 mentality and people are driving more than ever before. In the evolution/revolution of work, it’s time to consider if it is appropriate to keep working 24/7 to deliver potentially not needed services?

Fatigue is more than feeling tired and drowsy.

In a work context, it’s a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion which reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively.

Fatigue is a problem at work because it can lead to increased errors, incidents and injuries and can have long term health impacts.

The impact on psychological health is critical.

Since we spend 30% of our life at work, a workplace is positioned to provide either a positive or a negative contribution. Mental health conditions should not be caused or made worse by a person’s work.

Teegan said workplaces should develop a fatigue risk management plan, and to consult and communicate with workers to ensure a successful outcome.

When conducting risk assessments, consider both work-related and non-work factors that might be contributing toward fatigue.

Stress and its linkages to fatigue cannot be underestimated. Consultation may identify workers who wake between 2 and 3 am thinking about work stressors or others who have trouble getting to sleep thinking about what they need to do at work.

Pyschosocial hazards are anything in the design or management of work that increases the risk of work-related stress. Job demands, poor support, poor workplace relations etc. can lead to work-related stress and result in pyschological and physical illness and affect sleep.

Safe Work Australia have published a Managing the Risk of Work-Related Fatigue Guide to assist in identifying factors in the workplace which increases the risk of fatigue.

When assessing the risk of fatigue, consider:

  • Which workers are a risk – remember sub contractors
  • Frequency of exposure to risk of fatigue
  • Degree of harm if something goes wrong
  • Are there currently controls in place – how effective are they?
  • Action required to implement additional controls if necessary
  • Urgency to act.

Leadership and culture is critical.

Teegan urged everyone to incorporate fatigue into an overarching safety management system, to promote positive practices and support those with sleep disorders or medical conditions which impact on sleep.

She recommended the Mentally Healthy Workplace Toolkit which is a free on-line, user-friendly resource published by Workplace Health & Safety Queensland.


Thank you to Teegan Modderman, Director of the Pyschological Health Unit, Workplace Health & Safety Queensland for the content contained in this blog post.

For more information about CTC’s Safety Seminars and initiatives we offer, visit our website.

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