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Being a hard worker has its advantages and disadvantages.  You’re often the first to arrive and last to leave, making sure everything is done to the best of your ability regardless of how you feel at the time.

However, if your hard work leads to you becoming fatigued, and you fail to recognise it, it leads to errors, poor decision making and accidents.  This is especially true for shift workers, so fatigue management becomes a crucial part of the health and welfare programs designed for staff.

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness and can lead to serious accidents in a busy and productive workplace.

Did you know?

According to WorkSafe Victoria:

17 hours awake = 0.05 blood alcohol content (legal limit in Australia)

20-25 hours awake = 0.10 blood alcohol content

Fatigue can be hard to spot, especially in yourself.  Here are some signs you can lookout for:

  • Tiredness and sleepiness;
  • Irritability and reduced interpersonal communication;
  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Memory lapses;
  • Reduced coordination;
  • Reduced reaction times.

It is often difficult to distinguish between fatigue-related accidents and injuries in the workplace and those that are caused by fatigue.

The chance of workers making a mistake due to fatigue significantly increases when they sleep for less than five hours before work, or when workers have been awake for more than 16 hours.

Sleep Deprivation is one of the most common causes of fatigue but there are also other factors contribute to fatigue:

  • Disruption of your internal body clock (shift work);
  • Long shifts
  • Short recovery time between shifts;
  • Physically and mentally strenuous tasks;
  • Long commuting times;
  • Family burdens;
  • Excessive alcohol consumption;
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine;
  • Ingestion of certain medications.


People require at least 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep per day.  Studies have found that most night-shift workers get less sleep per week than those who work day shifts (Knutsson, 2003).


The quality of sleep during the day is not the same as during the night.

Sleep Hygiene is the term used for the habits and practices we use that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis.  The following list, if followed, will improve sleep quality as well as the length of time we sleep:

  • Ensure regular sleep patterns (i.e. going to bed and waking up at the same time daily);
  • Turning lights out when going to bed, using block-out curtains;
  • Avoid watching TV, using smart phones and tablets immediately before going to bed;
  • Ensure your room is quiet;
  • Sleep with an adequate temperature (i.e. Sleeping in a cool room);
  • Have a regular eating regime – avoid eating large meals right before going to bed;
  • Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol, especially before bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly.

As workers, we are generally in control of how hard we work and how tired we get.  Self-monitoring for signs of fatigue can be learned, and making the right decision about when to stop is vital for preventing mistakes in decision making and for preventing workplace accidents.  Making a habit of the good sleep hygiene also goes a long way to preventing this fatigue as well.



Shift Work and Sleep. (2016).

Knutsson, A. (2003). Health disorders of shift workers. Occupational Medicine, 45 (2), p 103-105.

WorkSafe Victoria (2008). Fatigue – Prevention in the workplace. 


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