Fatigue - what's the problem?

Many industries rely on workers being physically and mentally alert. Fatigue is a state of physical and/or mental exhaustion which reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively.

How are workers and others harmed?

Fatigue reduces alertness. This may lead to errors, and an increase in workplace incidents and injuries.

There are various causes of fatigue including:

  • Work schedules – hours of work, night work and shift work (including breaks between shifts)
  • Sleep disruption: Everyone needs a particular amount of sleep to stay alert and perform well. 
  • Environmental conditions: Climate extremes (such as working outside in winter), noise and handling vibrating tools place demands on workers and increase fatigue.
  • Physical and mental work demands: Some industries, such as construction work, can be physically demanding which can increase fatigue. Mental demands can also increase fatigue, such as tasks that require periods of intense concentration.
  • Emotional well-being: Work events can be emotionally tiring and increase fatigue, such as regular criticism or the pressure to complete a task to a deadline. Non-work events can also cause distress and lead to fatigue - for example: when a person faces the loss of a loved one or tries to resolve personal conflicts. 

What you can do

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Set achievable demands for your workers in relation to agreed hours of work.
  • Match worker’s skills and abilities to job demands;
  • Support workers to have a level of control over their pace of work;
  • Develop multi-disciplinary teams to share ideas and perspectives on ways to address situations.
  • Involve workers in decisions that may impact their health and safety, and have processes to enable workers to raise issues and concerns they might have.
  • Ensure managers and supervisors have the capability and knowledge to identify, understand and support workers who may be feeling stressed
  • Provide workers with access to independent counselling services
  • Have agreed policies and procedures to prevent or resolve unacceptable behaviour.
  • Engage and consult with workers before implementing change processes, and ensure they genuinely have the ability to influence the decisions you make. 

You need to select the most effective controls that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Get your workers involved

  • Ensure your workers know how to make suggestions, ask questions or raise concerns.
  • Always ask your workers for input on identifying health and safety risks and how to eliminate or minimise them. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good decisions when they have been involved in the conversation. Your workers (including contractors and temps) are the eyes and ears of your business. They can help spot issues, and suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.
  • Always train your workers on what the key risks are and how to keep healthy and safe. 

Find out more about getting your workers involved

Where to go for more information


The dangers of fatigue in the workplace | WorkSafe British Columbia(external link)