OHS needs innovative thinking to manage fatigue

The December 2010 edition of WorkForce Management magazine (not available online) reports on a recent US survey concerning fatigue. The raw data is not available but the survey of 820 companies showed that over 80 per cent of respondents believed that fatigue was more of a workplace issue that in the past.

This may indicate an increased awareness or an increased reality but regardless, the hazard is gaining more attention.

Of greater interest is the possible causes identified in the survey. These include:

  • “Reduced head count,
  • Lack of boundaries between home life and work,
  • Second jobs,
  • A culture of ‘wanting to do it all'”.

How many of these contributory factors can an OHS professional affect?

This is a major challenge to many OHS professionals. Achieving a change in workload for staff is going to be difficult to justify in terms of safety. Other areas of the management structure are likely to have more influence on recruitment practices but all this means is that a safety professional needs to be attuned to the office politics. Jim Hacker in Yes Minister, said that the best tool for a politician was elbows in order to get to the front, or top, in his career. Similar tools are required to achieve many improvements in safety management.

The work/life balance is an increasing challenge but there is sufficient evidence to support a clear delineation of work time and non-work time. The trick is to convince management of the safety imperatives involved in turning off that Blackberry, or leaving work at the contracted time, or taking the annual leave that is allocated…….. The evidence IS available but to implement controls based on this evidence many companies and executives would need to reassess the organisational structures and long-established industry practices, and most find this too threatening a prospect. Safety managers need to devise a campaign with their management colleagues to not only present the evidence but to show how such a change can be achieved whilst still achieving (or even better, increasing) the corporate bottom line of productivity, profit and safety.

Second jobs are usually undertaken to compensate for the insufficient remuneration from the principle occupation. Safety professionals need to have a social consciousness and be activists for social change. Improved social conditions will affect the work expectations of employees and the accountability of executives. A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is an achievable goal.

“Wanting to do it all” is a fundamental symptom of insecurity. People feel that they cannot trust others to perform, they struggle to delegate, they don’t have faith in others. Managers need to be unafraid to fail or to allow workers to fail. it is from mistakes that the greatest lessons a learned.

This last issue is the most difficult to implement in the context of safety because failure may result in injury or death. In this context, it may be better to discuss failures, to analyze the safety and operational mistakes of others so that we can learn from their mistakes. This blog is part of that process through communicating and discussing failures with the aim of identifying effective control measures. Professional networking and safety group participation are also effective but rather than just catching up with colleagues, we need to be prepared to ask for help. Safety groups are particularly effective in this area where no one is an expert and the group’s aim is to share knowledge.

Like most elements of safety management, the management of fatigue is multiple-disciplinary and requires a maturity and deftness of skills to achieve real reform.

Kevin Jones

4 thoughts on “OHS needs innovative thinking to manage fatigue”

  1. Managers also monitor the actions of their employees and patrons on a continual basis to ensure the personal safety of everyone. They make sure that health and safety standards and local liquor regulations are obeyed…..In addition to their regular duties food service managers perform a variety of administrative assignments such as keeping employee work records preparing the payroll and completing paperwork to comply with licensing laws and reporting requirements of tax wage and hour unemployment compensation and Social Security laws.

  2. The Road Traffic Act is in effect, non compliant with OHSW requirements as that is the standard that takes precedence. I am currently assisting a linehaul driver who was mistakenly diagnosed with Epilepsy when in fact the correct diagnosis was straight our fatigue. (medically confirmed)

    The majority of Transport companies will work to the letter of the RTA regardless of OHSW requirements in the mistaken belief that the RTA in effect excuses them their obligation to provide a safe work environment and conditions.

    Once again the \”minimalist\” attitude bubbles to the surface, spend the least amount of time and effort you can to comply seems to be the credo of many.

    I refer you to a previous article by Yossi Berger on the matter of fatigue which was a concise and illuminating overview of the fatigue issue and clearly showed the real definition of fatigue.

    I sense a lack of effective leadership from unions in the matter of holding both employers and government accountable for poor performance in injury prevention and lack of a decent workers compensation scheme that is not designed to penalise injured workers.

  3. Fatigue is an odd thing, and is rarely understood. Long-distance drivers are required by law to have regular breaks and to comply with log book guidelines. But even long-distance drivers who comply suffer from fatigue.
    Fatigue is the constant routine that does not supply stimulation to the mind, it is muscle fatigue where even though regular rests are in place, the muscle fatigue is cumlative. It is also mental tiredness where the same work is done over and over and over, the fatigue is a build up of rote work where the mental alterness is dulled by the repetion of the work and then workplace incidents happen resulting in workplace injury or workplace death.

    But never in the many years I have been doing this work has anyone ever asked me what injured workers have told me about fatigue within the workplace.

    So I guess it is like many other things, people talk about things, but they really don\’t want to know.

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