Fatigue is a health and safety risk that you must manage.
Under health and safety legislation, you have an obligation to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the safety of your workers. Therefore, causing or permitting workers to perform work in a fatigued state could expose you to liability for breaching health and safety legislation.
Fatigue is an acute or ongoing state of tiredness that results in poor judgement, slower reaction times and reduced capacity to safely perform a task.
Tip - The Western Australian code of practice, Psychosocial hazards in the workplace, states that fatigue can be both a psychosocial hazard and the outcome of being exposed to psychosocial hazards, and it is a state of mental or physical exhaustion.
Fatigue can affect the health and safety of workers:
Fatigue can lead to short- and long-term health issues for workers, including:
- mood changes, such as depression
- cardiovascular disease; and
- gastrointestinal problems, e.g. constipation and stomach discomfort.
A fatigued worker can indirectly affect their own health and safety, and the health and safety of others in the workplace, by exposing them to risk caused by the fatigued worker’s:
- impaired judgement, i.e. reduced capability to make good decisions;
- reduced physical capacity; and
- slower reaction times.
The indirect effects of fatigue can not only cause workplace incidents, it can also result in accidents outside of work, e.g. car accidents while driving to or from work.
Caution - In Naivalu v Ready Workforce (2018), a worker suffered severe injuries after falling asleep at the wheel while driving home from work. The worker had been engaged as a farm hand at a chicken farm and, on the day of the motor vehicle accident, he had laboured in an unventilated chicken shed in extreme heat. The employer admitted that the worker had been pushed to work hard. The Workers’ Compensation Commission found that despite the injury occurring outside of work hours, there was a ‘real and substantial connection’ between the employment and the motor vehicle accident. The employer was ordered to pay weekly compensation to the worker for 12 months, the payments totalling just under $30,000.
Caution - If a worker’s fatigue causes an injury to themselves or another worker, the injury worker will be able to claim workers’ compensation The CSA Workplace Safety HSE Portal contains a useful tool to manage the risks of fatigued workers.