What is fatigue?

“Extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.”


Physical demands of the task and the need to meet production targets lead to extended shifts and that may result in fatigue. The economic need to have sustainable jobs puts pressure on organizations to meet production targets. In order to maintain customer demands. This ensure that we stay in business, right? As a responsible employer, one need to ask themselves how these demands affect employee’s health and safety.

To a certain degree, poor fatigue management contribute to a lot of both road and workplace accidents. Employers that have their employees on the road as part of their daily activities need to consider putting some controls in place to combat fatigue-related accidents and loss of life.

Naturally, the body is used to having certain sleep patterns and once that is disrupted or tampered with, it may result in the disturbance of the natural function of the body. Fatigue may be caused by one or more of the following:

Causes of fatigue

  • Long work hours
  • Prolonged periods of physical or mental activity
  • Insufficient break time between shifts
  • Inadequate rest
  • Excessive stress
  • Sleep disorders

In his article - THE ISSUES OF FATIGUE AND WORKING TIME IN THE ROAD TRANSPORT SECTOR, Jon K. Beaulieu – ILO wrote: “Fatigue causes a loss of alertness in a driver, which is accompanied by poor judgment, slower reaction time and decreased skill levels. In addition, a driver’s ability to concentrate and make critical decisions is reduced, and it takes longer to interpret and understand a traffic situation. It is a significant problem in the road transport sector in terms of the health and quality of life of drivers, as well as in the potential for accidents. Therefore, it is an important health and safety issue for the road transport sector.”

Tips on how to manage fatigue

  • Employers may consider a Fatigue management policy to help them deal with fatigue in the workplace.
  • Implementing rest cycles during shifts
  • Allowing for work rest cycles
  • Air quality monitoring (CO2 etc)
  • Eat often to beat tiredness.
  • Lose weight to gain energy.
  • Sleep well.
  • Reduce stress to boost energy.
  • Talking therapy beats fatigue.
  • Cut out caffeine.
  • Drink less alcohol.

Employers need to acknowledge that as much as they have a responsibility to meet customer objectives in order to stay afloat, they need a physically fit workforce that is not negatively impacted by working for extended periods without breaks. This means they have a dual responsibility to work safely while they ensure that their business don’t lose money. Listing fatigue as one of workplace hazards and implementation of monitoring systems as part of control measures is the initial step for employers looking to improve their workplace safety standards. The health and safety landscape are forever changing as workplaces introduce new systems of work to improve efficiencies and that means hazards keep changing form. Employers need not forget this dynamic.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers have a duty to ensure that Risk Assessments are conducted in their workplaces. As part of the risk assessment process, they need to ensure the inclusion of Fatigue as a hazard and define associated risks so they can prevent accidents associated with it. As much as equipment is safe enough to be used in the workplace, it is of paramount importance that the well-being of employees working in that environments is considered.

Written by Juliet Kekana – Managing Director – De-novo HSE Training and Consulting

For more information on health and safety services, visit our website www.denovohse.co.za

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