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Why fatigue management must be taken seriously

Article author: Karl Simmons chief health, safety and security officer at Thames Water. This article originally appeared in IOSH Magazine.

Fatigue significantly increases the risk of an incident when not effectively controlled. Karl Simons, Chief Health safety and security officer at Thames Water, explains why organisations need to take fatigue management seriously.

We are always looking at the psychological impact mental health and state of mind can have on concentration levels, which can lead to slips and lapses in concentration. Errors often arise because someone is not focused on the task at hand, often due to worry, tiredness or exhaustion.

As working hours are generally implemented with a great deal of thought, there are hidden risks. For example, when did you last run a check on overtime hours from a health and safety perspective, not a cost-control measure?

A key consideration often missed is to factor in workers’ commuting time. Research tells us that, following long working hours, the drive home can become the most dangerous part of the working day.

To mitigate risk, here is what employers should do:

  • Manage and monitor the following areas where the incidence of accidents and injuries is highest: workers on night shifts, those who do successive shifts, especially night shifts and those who do shift over 8 hours.
  • Manage fatigue risks, regardless of an individual’s willingness to work extra hours or preference for certain shift patterns.
  • Risk assess changes to working hours, using the HSE’s ‘fatigue risk index’ tool.
  • Consult employees on working hours and shift patterns, remembering that they may prefer certain shifts that are unhealthy and likely to lead to fatigue.
  • Develop a policy that sets limits on working hours overtime and shift-swapping to guard against fatigue.
  • Implement the policy, monitor it and also ensure it is enforced. This could include developing a robust system of recording working hours, overtime, shift swapping and on-call monitoring.

Fatigue not only occurs within the 24- hour period, but it also echoes throughout the business, that the priority is to keep everyone safe at work and send them home safe and well at the end of every day.

All organisations are responsible for putting in safety measures that prevent individuals from failing.

For more information and guidance around human risk factors and shift work, and fatigue risk guidance can be found here.

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Emma Guy
Communications Officer
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