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Fatigue In The Workplace

The Healthy EmployeeBoosting energy Fatigue In The Workplace

Fatigue In The Workplace

Definition of fatigue:
Although there is no scientific definition for fatigue, it is normally described as feeling tired and not being able to carry out work as effectively as usual.
A worker who is fatigued may have lower levels of concentration, short-term memory problems, and slower reaction times and less interest in their work than normal.


Fatigue can be caused by:

  • Excessive time at work and/or shift patterns that are not well thought out
  • Working too hard or for too long
  • Not sleeping enough or having poor quality sleep
  • Disrupted sleep patterns, such as working nights/early mornings
  • Poorly designed shift work
  • Inadequate breaks

Indirectly fatigue is made worse by lifestyle factors such as poor diet, irregular meals, alcohol, and being under or overweight.

Employers should be aware that, in many cases, workers may not be good at assessing how fatigued they are; even when they are good at managing fatigue, fatigue itself can increase stress and the risk of ill health.


What is the impact of fatigue at work?

Fatigue causes physical and psychological problems. These can lead to poor performance and reduced productivity, as well as operator errors, accidents, injuries and ill health.

It’s important that employers control long working hours.  Changes to working hours need to be risk assessed. Fatigue can cause:

  • Slower reaction times
  • Falling asleep at work
  • Inability to concentrate or process information
  • Problems with short-term memory
  • Lack of attention to detail
  • Poor decision making
  • Underestimation of risk
  • Poor coordination


Shift work:

Shift work, involving hours outside normal daylight hours, can put workers at risk of fatigue. There is a higher incidence of accidents and injuries on night shifts, ‘low points’ (eg after lunch), or when shifts are long with inadequate breaks. In one study, 62% of shift workers had sleeping problems, compared with 20% of day workers. Shift workers are also more likely to have digestive disorders and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Over 3.5 million people in the UK are shift workers. There is no specific legislation for shift work but employers are responsible for the health and safety of workers and this includes reducing the risk of fatigue by planning shift work schedules effectively. This, in turn, reduces risks associated with fatigue and can prevent ill health, injuries and/or accidents. You can find out more about shift work at: support.fitforwork.org/app/answers/detail/a_id/607.


Stress and fatigue:

This can contribute to a range of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. Mental health should therefore be considered in reference to fatigue.


For details about our Becoming Fatigue Free Project please email anna@thehealthyemployee.co.uk

The Healthy Employee
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