Fighting fatigue: Staying alert and avoiding safety hazards at work

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Did you know that more than 40% of people in the workplace have suffered a fatigue related accident or injury. That is almost half the people you work with on a daily basis.

Fatigue reduces our focus and affects our judgement in doing our tasks correctly. When we have to make a split-second decision, our reaction is also slower, meaning that we could have prevented an accident or injury making it a safety hazard. When we are fatigued, our body and brain go almost into a “sleep mode” so we think and do things a lot slower than when we are alert.

safety hazard

It is important for both the employer and the employee to be aware of fatigue in the workplace as well as what is a hazard and a risk. 

We must be able to:

  • identify fatigue-related hazards and factors that contribute to fatigue;
  • assess the risks of fatigue;
  • implement risk control measures;
  • monitor and review the effectiveness of the controls;
  • ensure that all individuals are alert and fit for work;

When we look at the above, we can identify safety hazard examples and come up with a solution to prevent accidents and injuries at work, which means working in a safe work environment.

Recognising the enemy: Fatigue and its forms

  • Physical fatigue: The temporary physical inability of the muscles to perform correctly. Symptoms are: chronic tiredness, sore or aching muscles, muscle weakness, slow reflexes and responses, impaired hand-to-eye coordination, blurred vision.
  • Mental fatigue: When the brain is running on low or depleted energy. Symptoms can be: difficulty making decisions, lack of concentration, impaired thinking, irritability, decrease in motivation.
  • Emotional fatigue:  When you are emotionally drained, or have no more feelings your symptoms could be: anxiety, stress, nervousness, unable to control emotions, depressed, feeling trapped or lost, tearfulness.
workplace hazards

Strategies to Stay Alert and Focused

Getting enough sleep (7-8 hours) is very important, this gives the brain enough “time” to fully recover from the previous day’s activities.  Enough sleep assists you to think more clearly and make the right decisions.

Stay hydrated, the brain and body need water to function to the best of their ability. With dehydration they need to work harder to keep up energy levels, and if they keep going and become depleted in energy, the body and brain then switches off.  By staying hydrated we keep the body and brain in a good working condition.

Healthy meals and snacks give our body the energy and brain power it needs to function properly. With unhealthy meals our bodies can develop underlying problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and even heart problems.

Taking breaks is important.  By taking breaks away from your workplace or desk the brain can focus on something different, and you give it a chance to regenerate and recover.

Light exercise. Just standing up from your desk gives the body movement, and with the movement blood can flow through the body and carry oxygen to the cells that need it, boosting your energy levels.

Having the right light, ventilation and temperature in your workplace can also help.  A dark, stuffy cold workspace will make you feel tired and depressed, and you use more energy to focus and stay warm.  Having a well-lit office, with enough ventilation and correct temperature, will make you feel more comfortable and relaxed.  Low light leads to squinting, which causes headaches. Not enough ventilation means less oxygen for our body and brain. And low temperatures mean more energy being used to stay warm to function properly.

Safety Hazards and Fatigue:

What is a safety hazard? There are many different types, here are some examples of hazards:

  • Physical hazards: Uneven floors, Ionizing radiation (X-ray), noise, lighting, vibration, extreme temperature, poor ventilation, point of operation, point of power transmission, area of moving parts.
  • Chemical hazards:  Acids, pesticides, herbicides, fumes, dusts, gases, flammable substances, solvents, effluent, solid waste.
  • Biological hazards:  Insects, vermin (rats and mice), pathogens, viruses (HIV/AIDS), medical waste.
  • Ergonomical hazards:  Manual handling, repetitive movement, poor design, restricted space, outdated design and technology.

Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA) can help reduce the above-mentioned hazards you might encounter in the workplace.  By doing risk assessments you can control your workplace safety.  Asking employees as well as the employer to do HIRA at work, means they can “spot” the types of hazards in the workplace and risks before they become dangerous.

types of hazards

Building a Culture of Safety: A Shared Responsibility

Employer role: Employers need to promote a healthy work-life balance, flexible work arrangements and fatigue management programs. By looking at the employee’s needs physically, mentally and emotionally, the employer can see where they can help the employee.  Assisting with the smallest of things can make a huge difference for the employee.

Employees’ role: Employees should prioritize sleep, healthy habits and report safety concerns to their employer. You need a healthy body and mind to perform your daily duties. If an employee has any problems, they need to inform the employer, so that they can make and take the appropriate steps to assist the employee.

An open-door policy at work should be encouraged so that both the employee and the employer have a level playing field. When people can communicate openly and clearly, they can attend to most types of hazards/problems that might be encountered in the workplace. Most of the time people don’t communicate at work as they fear being blamed for the thing that has gone wrong. We need to work together to make sure we reduce workplace hazards and promote workplace safety.

It is very important to be vigilant and proactive in the workplace to combat fatigue and safety hazards.  By knowing what to do and following all safety measures you can create a safe and healthy work environment.  A safe and healthy workplace means a team that works hard together as well as a happy environment where everyone is more productive.

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