The Best Vs. The Worst by Mackenzie Wilson

#7 Fatigue Risk Management.

by Mackenzie Wilson / Based on the following SafeConnection panels

Fatigue is a part of our lives, affecting our reflexes, ability to anticipate danger and decision making. What should safety leaders do about it, especially in the workplace? SafeStart author Larry Wilson invited experts from world-class companies to join him for another round of SafeConnection Panel discussions to see how they are tackling this perennial challenge.

To begin, he took the temperature with the group: is fatigue primarily a personal responsibility or a company one? Can it be tested reliably? And how much control should a business exert in this area?

Make no mistake, an organisation that fails to respond to fatigue risk management is in line for dangerous consequences:

In their customary fashion, industry leaders shared hard-won knowledge from the front line on how fatigue can throw up unexpected issues

Workers in occupations requiring long shifts must develop the right mindset going in:

If rotations are part of the productivity approach, give your employees notice in advance so that they can adapt both psychologically (mindset) and biologically (circadian rhythms) to the change:

Experience insight from SafeStart’s Larry Wilson: “You have all moved away from people working permanent shifts”, a good thing from a mental health and fairness point of view. “Fatigue management is mostly a personal thing. Only you really know how tired you are, and only you know why. So sometimes it’s ‘better’ to hide your fatigue if you haven’t managed your sleep, which makes it difficult for a supervisor to notice.” Leaders need to be aware of such potentially consequential thought patterns for optimal risk management.

Beyond rotating shift work in a way that respects the limitations of the human mind and body, what practical steps can a company take?

Employers can look to personnel differentiation to overcome the fatigue risk management challenge:

Repetitive stress fatigue is a category that must not be neglected, but the psychological dimensionF must be watched carefully as it can easily throw up counterproductive outcomes.

Case Study: SafeStart’s Larry Wilson recalls a workplace he had a big job at that really didn’t have any high-risk operations, but the workers pulled carts all day. Their number-one recordable injury was shoulder injuries, and it seemed as though the supervisors didn’t even notice anymore. “But all the employees know that they should push the cart. And obviously they know when their shoulder starts to hurt. So, it’s not easy. And it’s not fair to throw it all on the supervisors”.

Especially to pre-empt fatigue on big-project sites, it pays to build some slack into your system, whether that be more workforce depth or particular resources to support employee comfort:

Through the panels the notion emerged that fatigue has become more multi-dimensional – and that includes mental health considerations.

Realistically, only the individual knows exactly how tired he or she really is; when tiredness starts becoming a problem, we need to recognise the situation and do something about it before there is a minor or even serious mistake. We can’t always get more sleep, but we can do some brisk exercise or stretch, have a coffee or tea or take a quick break and close your eyes for 10-15 minutes – just not while you’re driving!

Fatigue remains inescapable. But there are lots of things that can be done to help combat it at the workplace, with leadership always bound to play an important role.

Take Aways

  • Organisations must take fatigue seriously.
  • Shift work requires management care – and mental/physical preparation.
  • Use productivity techniques such as shuffling tasks and breaking down activities.
  • Build in slack to give workforce relief where needed.
  • Empathetic listening keeps the awareness level high.
¹ Based on SafeConnection panels on North America, Europe, The Middle East, India and Asia.
² All opinions expressed in here are purely those of the panelists. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of SafeStart and the panelists’ companies.
³ For more information about the SafeConnection Expert Panels and to watch past or current sessions, please visit

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