Fatigue: What is it, and how can you prevent it becoming an issue

It’s no secret being a tradie is a very physically and mentally demanding job, with long workdays and weeks placing the body under intense physical and mental strain. 

Worker fatigue is one of the biggest hazards on-site, particularly during colder months.

Fatigue can come in many different forms and be caused by a number of different factors. While fatigue may not be avoidable in today’s busy cycle, it is important we recognise the signs of fatigue and the steps we can take to reduce it. Because at the end of the day, a tired worker is a dangerous worker. 

 Responsibilities for managing fatigue 

When you are fatigued, you are less alert and aware of your environment; this can lead to an increased risk of errors, resulting in injuries or accidents on-site. 

When working on-site, it is both the Employers/PCBU’s and the Employee’s/Worker’s responsibility to recognise and reduce worker fatigue. 

Employers/PCBU’s

As the principal contractor on-site you are required to provide a safe working environment, and that includes reducing fatigue. Here are a few strategies for ensuring everyone stays fresh: 

  • Working schedules – Make sure your team isn’t working too many days in a row or too many long shifts, get your team to take regular breaks and schedule tasks throughout the day to maximise peak energy periods. 
  • Sleep – design rosters or workweeks in a way that doesn’t negatively impact normal sleep patterns too much
  • Ask questions – be sure to check in with your team. Ask how they are feeling, ask about their personal life and be aware of personal circumstances that may be impacting their energy levels at work 
  • Avoid extreme conditions – working in extreme heat or cold weather is extremely draining. Limit prolonged exposure to these conditions if possible
  • Understand your team – everyone in your team or on-site is different. Make sure workloads and requests are manageable and within skill and experience levels
  • Develop a fatigue policy and plan – this will formalise everyone’s role in reducing fatigue on-site. This should clearly outline all of the above points. 

 Employees/Workers

Everyone is personally responsible for turning up every day in the best mental and physical conditions possible. Here are some tips:

  • Put yourselves in a position to get the most sleep and recovery as possible between shifts and workweeks 
  • Inform the boss or PCBU if their circumstances change or if there is anything affecting your energy levels which may impact your ability to work
  • Know and listen to your body, and take action when it’s saying “I’m tired!”
  • Report fatigue-related incidents, whether it’s you personally or someone else, report all incidents or near misses on-site

Practical steps for managing fatigue in colder months 

During winter, fatigue levels tend to increase. With the colder temperatures, longer nights, and reduced sunlight, our bodies naturally tend to shut down earlier in the day. To counter this, there are a few steps you can take. 

  • Enjoy the sun and get outdoors as much as possible during your day
  • Prioritise good sleep. Everyone needs somewhere between 6-9 hours of sleep a night. Getting good quality uninterrupted sleep will help recharge your batteries and fight off the winter drowsiness
  • Exercise regularly. Regular exercise will help keep you energised and can actually help you sleep 
  • Relax, don’t stress. 
  • Eat well and fuel your body with the nutrients it needs to recover and sustain itself

Fatigue is something that we all face in our busy work lives and it is often unavoidable. However, it is critical we can recognise the signs of fatigue in ourselves or someone on-site and take the necessary steps to prevent fatigue-related problems from happening.

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