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Work Health and Safety Blog

There's so much happening in the world of health & safety. Changes in legislation and requirements, changes in best practice, changes in ... you name it. Here's my take on making it simple. Simply Genius WHS - stop guessing... manage with confidence.

Fatigued workers in construction are a menace to your safety

Maralyn Kastel - Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What is it that makes the discussion of fatigued workers in construction a topic that is seldom addressed, rarely discussed with workers and yet can have a disastrous result?

Is it the “we’re construction workers, and we’re tough” attitude that prevails among workers, or is it the pressure from “above” to just get the job done, with deadlines and the bottom line being the driving force.

Did you know studies have shown that being awake for 17 hours is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of 0.05 and being awake for 20 hours is the same as of having a blood alcohol level of between 0.08 and 0.1.  Would you allow your workers to do construction work under the influence of alcohol?

That’s not a good start to a safe working day.  The long hours, pressure to complete the project or a shortage of workers, fatigue is a workplace hazard that needs to be managed with effective risk controls and is just one part of your overall health and safety management. 

Fatigue can be fatal
Through a long term analysis of workers in construction from 1979 through to 1996 and annually therefore it has been found that working greater than 8 hours per day had higher injury rates than those working less than 8 hours per day (15% versus 10%).  The more hours worked the higher the likelihood of an accident and injury.

The study found that work schedules of construction workers differed from workers in other industries in that they started work earlier, worked longer days and fewer weeks and were more likely to hold multiple jobs and to change jobs frequently.

The consequence of fatigued workers in construction is more likely to be a serious accident due to the nature and hazards in the industry.

What are the main risks of fatigue?
In 2009, an industry reference group, the Building Employee Redundancy Trust in Queensland engaged the University of Queensland to survey fatigue levels in civil and commercial construction.

The research showed that fatigue was associated with a significant increase in near misses at work as well as an increase in work-life conflict. Other key findings included:

  • construction workers in all jobs reported fatigue to be highest between 2pm and 4pm
  • workers associated November, December and January with higher levels of fatigue
  • older workers reported higher levels of fatigue
  • the longer the work hours, the higher the level of fatigue
  • the longer the commuting hours per day, the higher the level of fatigue.

In a separate study, the effects of cognitive and muscular fatigue on individual workers can cause immediate reductions in safe work behaviour, productivity, teamwork and morale. Goldenhar, Hecker,Moir, et al. (2003), found that excessive overtime both within 1 day and across many days adversely affects productivity and that worker productivity was affected by the manner in which overtime jobs were run in terms of timelines and type of supervision.

Fatigue is compounded by lifestyle choices, diet, general health and includes such work-related aspects as scheduling, planning, rest breaks, payment incentives, work demands and the work environment.

Make fatigue a regular topic for discussion
Maintaining a healthy and safe working environment is everyone's responsibility. Reducing physical and mental fatigue helps to keep everyone working effectively and will help achieve a healthy and safe workplace. Bring this topic in from the cold and make it a part of your health and safety system.  Do this by:

  1. Discussing the nature of fatigue with your workers.  Include the effects of fatigue on the individual and the workplace
  2. Make sure workers know the effects of their lifestyle choices and their responsibilities to be “fit for work”
  3. Make sure when planning projects, there is sufficient time for all job tasks and factor in the inevitable delays that occur.
  4. Keep overtime to a minimum
  5. Implement a fatigue management strategy as part of your health & safety management including:
  • appropriate and adequate rest, shade and shelter particularly when there is potential for workers to be exposured to heat stress
  • decreasing the pace of work in extreme heat and during extended work periods
  • discussing the effects of fatigue with workers regularly
  • increase teamwork
  • limit the hours and the number of days where overtime is required
  • increase planning of job activities to reduce the risks
  • encourage worker discussion and involvement in regular toolbox talks

After all, health and safety at work is everyone’s responsibility and we want you to work safe and stay well, it’s your choice.

Related Toolbox Talks

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