Chapter 20: Fatigue

Chapter 20: Fatigue


Economic pressures for longer hours and round-the-clock working time arrangements along with a deregulated industrial landscape highlight the necessity to manage fatigue as an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) hazard. There have been significant advances in scientific knowledge regarding the causes, consequences and methods for controlling fatigue-related risk. Changes in the amount of sleep and/or wakefulness, circadian disruption and time on task are recognised as key contributors to an individual being fatigued. Also, the cognitive demands of a given task can shape the susceptibility of a task to fatigue-related error.

The experience of fatigue is associated with increased feelings of sleepiness, impaired neurobehavioural performance and negative mood. From an operational perspective, fatigue can sometimes manifest as an increased chance of fatigue-related error and/or fatigue-related accident or injury due to cognitive impairment.

Traditionally, fatigue has been managed primarily through the regulation of working time arrangements; specifically, regulation of shift maxima and break minima along with aggregate limits on total working hours over a specified period of time. Recent research suggests that this is of limited benefit and that a systems approach based on the principles of risk and safety management may provide better risk mitigation. This chapter outlines the Defences in Depth (DiD) approach to fatigue management that encompasses five levels of fatigue-related hazards and their associated controls. Understanding and managing fatigue is essential to building a healthy and safe workplace.

Keywords: fatigue, risk, sleep, safety, health

First year of publication: 2012
Current Version Pending Review: 2012

Chapter 20: Fatigue

Table of contents

1 Introduction
2 Historical context
3 Extent of the problem
4 Understanding fatigue as a hazard
4.1 Mechanisms of action
4.2 Consequences of fatigue
5 Legislation and standards
6 Control of fatigue-related hazards
7 Implications for OHS practice
8 Summary
Key Authors and Thinkers

Jessica L Paterson PhD, BPsych(Hons)
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Sleep Research, University of South Australia

Jessica has conducted research and consulting projects with the health care, transport and manufacturing industries. Currently, Jessica is employed by the Centre for Sleep Research and the Cooperative Research Centre for Rail Innovation as a research fellow investigating fatigue, workload and safety culture in the Australian rail industry.

Drew Dawson PhD, BA(Hons)
Director, Centre for Sleep Research, University of South Australia

Drew has worked extensively with the aviation, manufacturing, retail, entertainment, transportation and mining sectors in Australia and is a world-renowned expert on fatigue in the workplace. He has instigated fatigue-management programmes, developed shift-work and fatigue policy, undertaken pre-employment assessments and facilitated shift-work education sessions. Drew regularly presents at national and international conferences, and has provided expert witness testimony in many fatigue related court cases.

Learning Outcomes: Psychosocial Hazards: Fatigue

The OHS Body of Knowledge takes a conceptual approach which enables it to be applied in different contexts and frameworks.

To optimise its value for education and professional development learning outcomes have been developed for each technical chapter in the Body of Knowledge.

The learning outcomes as described give an indication of what should be the capabilities of an OHS professional; it is up to those developing OHS education programs, OHS professionals planning their CPD or recruiters or employers selecting or developing people for the OHS function to consider the required breadth vs. depth .

Please read the section on using the learning outcomes before delving into the leaning outcomes of the individual chapters.

The numbers against each learning outcome refer to the chapter number of the BOK download page. No learning outcomes have been developed for the chapters considered introductory or underpinning knowledge (that is chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1, .13, 14, 15.)

Find Out More About Using the OHS BOK Learning Outcomes

SWA videos: Managing shift and workplace fatigue


Date: 2017

Every business and industry is affected by fatigue; however some types of work and sectors have an inherently higher risk, particularly when shift work is involved.

AIHS Webinar: Managing cognitive fatigue and other brain centred hazards, not the brain


Date: 2019
David Musgrave, Vice President, Consulting leader, Dekra.

This webinar explores how accurate, consistent and sustainable hazard recognition and situational awareness systems in place can only be achieved by first addressing certain ‘brain-centered hazards’ in our workplaces and identify the hidden dangers behind cognitive fatigue and how it diminishes situational awareness and hazard recognition and simultaneously produces higher risk-taking actions.