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Fatigue in the workplace is a state of physical or mental exhaustion. It can reduce a worker’s ability to perform their job safely and effectively. Fatigue is a serious health and safety problem in New Zealand. Businesses must be aware of fatigue so they can carefully track, and minimise it where possible. There are many ways to solve workplace fatigue, and your business can take steps to reduce it. This article sets out what workplace fatigue is, what can cause it, and some ways to reduce it. 

What Is Workplace Fatigue?

Workplace fatigue is a health and safety issue. It occurs when workers are unable to perform their role safely or to full effect due to exhaustion. This can be a commercial issue for businesses as fatigue reduces productivity and workplace satisfaction. Most importantly, the actual health of your employees may be at risk. Under the law, you must take steps to watch out for the health and safety of your employees at work. 

There is a range of factors that can cause workplace fatigue. These include: 

  • lack of sleep, whether caused by work schedules and night shifts, or personal circumstances like having a young family; 
  • difficult or long hours of work, particularly when there are not sufficient breaks;
  • disruption to sleep, so even if a person is having sufficient hours of sleep, there may not be enough quality sleep or rest; 
  • environmental conditions that disrupt an employee’s rest or work, such as a cold working environment (working outside in a cold place in winter);
  • significant noise and handling vibrating tools can fatigue workers; 
  • physically demanding roles, such as in construction or other kinds of work that can physically exhaust employees;
  • mentally demanding roles, such as those that require extended periods of mental concentration; 
  • physical and mental work demands; and
  • emotionally demanding work. Some work events can be emotionally tiring and increase fatigue, such as dealing with extremely upset or emotional people day in and day out. 

How To Prevent Workplace Fatigue

Health and safety law in New Zealand places an ongoing duty on businesses to look after their worker’s health, including risks and challenges around fatigue. You should also engage with your workers when making decisions about how you will manage the risk of fatigue, as these measures will directly affect them. It is a great idea to discuss fatigue with your employees, as they may have a better idea than you as to what the causes of fatigue are in your workplace. 

You can take several measures with your employees to address workplace fatigue. Some of these include: 

  • ensuring workers are getting enough sleep and are not working shifts that are too long; 
  • ensuring that workers take sufficient breaks and rest at work;
  • checking how workers are getting to work and that they are getting to work safely. It is not always safe to drive after a long or exhausting shift; 
  • providing information about workplace fatigue and how workers can identify some of the warning signs and problems with fatigue; 
  • having a culture at work where workers can come forward with their issues around fatigue and other health and safety concerns; 
  • checking your employee’s rosters and whether the hours they are working are reasonable; and
  • varying the work that your employees are doing where possible.

In addition to thinking about your employees specifically, you can also think about your workplace’s physical and environmental conditions. Are the conditions conducive to effective and safe work? If the workplace is outside, is there adequate protection from the elements or contingency plans to not expose your workers to the worst weather conditions? There is a range of important things to think about. 

Key Takeaways

Managing and preventing fatigue is a key responsibility for your business under health and safety laws. You should be mindful of the possible risks and challenges facing your employees, what is exhausting or fatiguing them, and have an open dialogue with your workers if you are not fully across their day-to-day work and health challenges. There are many steps you can take to mitigate fatigue, including taking measures to improve your employees’ sleep and rest, promoting an open and productive health and safety culture, and checking for environmental factors.  

If you would like more information about managing and preventing fatigue in your business, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is workplace fatigue?

Fatigue in the workplace is a state of physical or mental exhaustion that reduces a workers’ ability to perform their job safely and effectively.

Is it a legal responsibility for a business to manage workplace fatigue?

Yes, under health and safety law, a business is legally required to identify health and safety risks like fatigue and take reasonably practicable steps to mitigate those risks.

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