Home>Health & Wellbeing>General Health & Wellbeing>Practitioner viewpoint- October 23

Practitioner viewpoint- October 23

18 October 2023

Louise Ward considers the impact of fatigue on safety in the workplace.

Modern life is tough. Over the last 30 years the UK has transitioned into an ‘always on’ culture. Shops and entertainment venues are now 24/7, and technology and social media drive ongoing engagement and interaction. But this places huge demands on our minds and bodies, and many reports suggest that few of us are getting sufficient rest and sleep, resulting in chronic and underlying fatigue which has the potential to adversely affect us in every part of our life.

Rest and sleep are vital for the health of our minds and bodies – we all understand the principle, but it’s increasingly hard to find the right balance with the demands of modern life, especially in the face of significant economic challenges. However, long term fatigue affects our decision making, judgement and our physical health, so we cannot afford to be complacent. People are a vital resource in our businesses, and many of our risk control strategies rely on them being alert, engaged and operating at an optimum level. So we cannot afford to overlook the impact of this largely silent issue.

On 5 July 2022 a Freight Train was waiting at a red signal at Lovershall Carr near Doncaster when it was struck from the rear by another freight train. Fortunately, neither driver was injured, and the incident occurred away from the mainline, thus avoiding any risk to passenger services. However, the trains did derail, and there was significant damage to the rolling stock, the infrastructure and the cargo. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) have recently published their report, and it identifies that fatigue was a significant causative factor in the incident.


Have you considered the impact of fatigue on safety in your workplace?

For many safety professionals the HSE Fatigue Index Tool has been the ‘go to’ guidance on managing fatigue in the workplace. However, this was withdrawn in 2021 in recognition that an updated approach is required to take proper account of the multifaceted nature of fatigue. There are many other sources of information available online, but no definite guide which sets out cross industry best practice. There is definitely a need to fill this gap for employers and employees alike, but we can’t afford to wait, and must therefore fall back on our risk management skills to help us demonstrate that we are managing fatigue so far as is reasonably practicable.

Step one is to set the tone, recognise the impact of fatigue and set out the company’s approach to managing the potential risk. Step two is to develop a system of work planning which allows for adequate rest. Step three is to develop a risk assessment process which takes account of individual factors, including health, personal circumstances, changing work patterns, additional work time and unforeseen events which occur periodically in everyone’s life. Step four is to raise the profile of the issue, and build competence so that people understand how to recognise when fatigue is impacting on their work, know what action they need to take, and feel empowered and supported to do the right thing.

Effective management of fatigue is not easy. The causes may well sit both inside and outside the workplace, and the impact can equally cross every boundary in our lives. But there is no doubt that this is one of the most significant wellbeing issues in the modern world, and that the impact can be catastrophic. So while there is an urgent need for experts to develop a tool which will support holistic fatigue management, there is also an imperative for employers and employees to collaborate in order to manage the everyday impact of this important issue.

Louise Ward is safety & sustainability director at G&W UK- Safety. For more information, visit www.gwrr.co.uk