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Understanding and Managing Fatigue in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers

Posted by Deirdre McConn

fatigue imageFatigue is a severe issue in the workplace, and managers must understand how best to manage fatigue risks. The Defences in Depth (DiD) approach is an effective way of managing Fatigue that involves multiple layers of controls. However, ensuring compliance with OHS regulations and standards can take time and effort when implementing this strategy. In this article, we'll explore understanding fatigue in the workplace, implementing a DiD approach to manage risk, and ensuring compliance with OHS regulations and standards when managing Fatigue at work.

Understanding Fatigue in the Workplace

Fatigue is a physical and mental state of exhaustion caused by prolonged or intense work, stress, lack of sleep, or illness. It can lead to decreased productivity, poor decision-making, and an increased risk of accidents.

Definition of Fatigue: Fatigue is a feeling of extreme tiredness or exhaustion that can affect both the body and mind. It usually occurs after long periods of exertion or stress. Still, it can also be caused by other factors such as lack of sleep, illness, medication side effects, and certain medical conditions.

Causes of Fatigue: There are many potential causes for Fatigue in the workplace, including long hours with little rest breaks; repetitive tasks; inadequate training; stressful working environments; monotonous tasks; insufficient lighting/ventilation/noise levels; and physical strain from lifting heavy objects. Other external factors such as lifestyle choices (e.g., smoking), diet (e.g., eating unhealthy foods), and age (older workers may experience more Fatigue than younger ones) may also contribute to feelings of Fatigue at work.

When someone experiences Fatigue, it can have severe consequences for their performance at work due to impaired concentration levels, leading to slower reaction times and poorer decision-making skills, increasing the risk of errors or accidents in the workplace. Additionally, it has been linked with higher rates of absenteeism, lower employee morale, increased turnover rate, reduced job satisfaction and lower productivity.

Implementing a Defences in Depth (DiD) Approach to Manage Fatigue Risk

The Defences in Depth (DiD) approach addresses and manages the risk of Fatigue, which involves implementing multiple layers of controls to protect against fatigue-related incidents. This approach is based on the principle that no single control measure effectively prevents fatigue-related incidents. Instead, various layers of controls are necessary to provide an effective defence against Fatigue.

The five levels of DiD approach are:
Level 1: Education and awareness - this level focuses on educating and raising awareness about Fatigue and its risks among the workforce, including providing information about the symptoms of Fatigue, the hazards associated with it and the importance of reporting Fatigue.
Level 2: Individual strategies - this level focuses on strategies that individuals can use to manage Fatigue, such as developing healthy sleep habits, taking regular rest breaks, and identifying and addressing any underlying health conditions contributing to Fatigue.
Level 3: Workplace strategies - this level involves implementing strategies within the workplace, such as adjusting work schedules, providing adequate rest breaks, and implementing policies and procedures that promote healthy sleep and overall wellbeing.
Level 4: Supervision and monitoring - this level focuses on supervising and monitoring employees to ensure that they are following established policies and procedures and identifying and addressing any issues that may arise.
Level 5: Organisational commitment - this level is the highest and involves the organisation committing to safety culture and making fatigue management an ongoing priority. It consists of the leadership and the organisation's direction being dedicated to continuously reviewing, evaluating, and updating the fatigue management plan and integrating it with the overall safety management system.

This DiD approach allows organisations to take a proactive, comprehensive approach to managing the risk of Fatigue by implementing multiple layers of controls that work in synergy to prevent and mitigate the risk of Fatigue. By following this approach, an organisation can build a robust fatigue management system that reduces the likelihood of fatigue-related incidents, improves the workforce's overall wellbeing, and promotes a safety culture.

Identifying Potential Hazards and Risks: The first step in implementing a Defences in Depth (DiD) approach to managing fatigue risk is identifying potential hazards and risks. This involves assessing the workplace environment, tasks, equipment, processes, and personnel for any factors contributing to employee fatigue.

Examples of such factors include:

  • Long working hours or shifts.
  • Inadequate rest periods.
  • Lack of breaks.
  • Physical demands.
  • Monotonous work.
  • Excessive noise levels.
  • Extreme temperatures or humidity levels.
  • Need for adequate lighting or ventilation.

Establishing Control Measures and Procedures: Once potential hazards have been identified, it is essential to establish control measures and procedures to mitigate these risks. This may involve setting limits on working hours or providing adequate rest periods between shifts. It may also include introducing ergonomic solutions such as adjustable furniture or improved lighting systems. Additionally, employers should ensure that employees are adequately trained on safety protocols related to their job duties to recognise signs of Fatigue before an incident occurs.

Furthermore, managers must monitor performance regularly to evaluate the effectiveness of the implemented control measures and procedures. Regular assessments should be conducted with employees regarding their workloads, shift patterns, sleep quality, etc., so any changes can be made quickly if necessary. Data from incident reports should be analysed periodically to identify trends, which can inform further action plans for improvement if required.

Ensuring Compliance with OHS Regulations and Standards

Ensuring compliance with OHS regulations and standards is essential for businesses to protect the safety of their employees. Understanding relevant legislation and regulations are the first step in ensuring that a company meets all requirements. This includes familiarising oneself with local, state, and federal occupational health and safety laws. It also involves staying up-to-date on any changes or updates to these laws.

Developing policies and procedures for OHS management systems is another essential part of ensuring compliance with OHS regulations. These policies should include clear guidelines on how employees are expected to conduct themselves in the workplace and protocols for responding to potential hazards or risks. Additionally, employers should ensure they have proper documentation processes to track employee compliance with these policies.

Finally, training employees on OHS requirements is vital for successfully implementing an effective safety program. Employers should provide regular training sessions where they review relevant legislation and discuss best practices regarding working safely in the workplace environment. Employees should also be made aware of any new developments or changes in policy so that they remain informed about their rights under applicable law at all times.


Managing Fatigue in the workplace is a critical part of any OHS management system. By implementing a Defences in Depth (DiD) approach, businesses can ensure that multiple layers of controls are in place to protect against fatigue-related incidents and comply with OHS regulations and standards. This approach helps companies create a safe working environment for their employees while also protecting their interests.

Are you looking for ways to improve your workplace's safety and protect your employees' wellbeing? Our OHS management service can help you manage Fatigue in the workplace. We provide comprehensive solutions, including risk assessments, policy development, training programs and monitoring processes so businesses can ensure their workers operate safely. Be sure to start protecting yourself and your staff before an accident occurs - contact us today!

Topics: Occupational Health and Wellbeing