Staying alert about fatigue in the workplace

Managing fatigue in the workplace is about more than just getting enough sleep. A fatigue risk management system can help employers reduce the risk. 

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Fatigue is more than just feeling sleepy — it impacts our abilities to think and work. And with Daylight Saving Time around the corner, I thought it was a good time to talk about fatigue in the workplace.

Heather Kahle, a human factors specialist with WorkSafeBC, says fatigue can have several causes. That’s why when it comes to combatting fatigue in the workplace, relying only on personal strategies such as drinking coffee, moving around, or opening windows, isn’t enough.

“It’s essential to actively manage the risk of fatigue using the principles of a safety management system,” she says. “This means looking at all workplace elements, including management, the workplace, and the worker.”

Heather adds that shift workers are at the highest risk since they’re working at a time when their natural drive to sleep is greatest.

“If you have fatigued workers performing tasks like driving or monitoring alarms, you have to ensure the workplace system is designed to reduce the safety risks.”

Managing fatigue in the workplace

Best practice is for employers to implement a fatigue risk management system (FRMS) as part of their safety management system. The first step, says Heather, is to create a policy that outlines the structure of the FRMS, including roles and responsibilities, training and education, and evaluation.

Here are some specific examples from Heather of what employers can do within the FRMS framework:

  • Develop a fatigue risk management working group to begin documenting each element of the FRMS, including identifying major fatigue-related concerns and strengths. For more on this, see the Government of Canada’s FRMS Toolbox for the aviation industry.
  • Consult with workers, the union, contractors, and other stakeholders about the development and implementation of the FRMS.
  • Develop and provide training for managers, supervisors, and employees to address key components of the FRMS.
  • Identify, assess, and control tasks that have a high potential for fatigue-related errors.
  • Update procedures to ensure fatigue is considered as a potential contributory factor when investigating incidents.
  • Assess lighting, temperature, humidity, and sound levels in work areas, as they can influence fatigue.

For more information about fatigue in the workplace, see these resources:

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