What Are Stress And Fatigue?

There are many definitions of stress & fatigue, and many theories about it. No definition or theory of ‘stress’ or ‘fatigue’ is perfect.

Stress – Defined in terms of the interaction between a person and their (work) environment and is the awareness of not being able to cope with the demands of one’s environment, when this realisation is of concern to the person, in that both are associated with a negative emotional response.

Stressors – Events or circumstances which may lead to the perception that physical or psychological demands are about to be exceeded. They can be of several types and can arise in and out of work.

Fatigue – The temporary inability, or decrease in ability, or a strong disinclination, to respond to a situation, because of previous over-activity, either mental, emotional, or physical.

What Stress & Fatigue Does To Your Body?

Unfortunately, stress is a part of life. It would be a dull life if there were no challenges in it. Stress & fatigue can create hazards in all workplaces, especially in safety-critical or safety-sensitive jobs these are especially critical where other workers or members of the public may be affected.

But what does stress & fatigue do to your body? Although stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences. Chronic stress can affect your overall well-being. Symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia

Fatigue can be described as the lack of energy and motivation (both physical and mental). This is different than drowsiness, a term that describes the need to sleep. Often, the symptom of fatigue has a gradual onset and the person may not be aware of how much energy they have lost until they try to compare their ability to complete tasks from one-time frame to another.

Individuals with fatigue may have three primary complaints; however, it can vary in each person.

  • Lack of motivation or the ability to begin an activity;
  • The person tires easily once the activity has begun; and
  • The person has mental fatigue or difficulty with concentration and memory to start or complete an activity.

How To Promote A Healthy Workplace.

Managers need to be able to recognise stress and fatigue in their employees and leads to impairment, and should have the training and systems to make sure they can recognise impairment and its potential causes, and act to prevent problems.

Employers Employees
Ensure as far as reasonably practicable the health and safety of their workers Take reasonable care for their own safety, plus the safety of others who might be affected
Provide and maintain a working environment that is without risk to health and safety Turn up in a state fit for work, having done everything possible to get good sleep and rest
Provide and maintain facilities for the safety and health of employees at work Comply with reasonable instructions of their employer, duty holder and/or the person conducting the business or undertaking where they work
Ensure that machinery and equipment is safe for employees Co-operate with any health and safety policy that has been notified to them
Ensure as far as reasonably practicable that working arrangements are not hazardous to employees Ensure they are adequately trained to complete the tasks
Ensure adequate training to complete tasks  identify risks associated with their work; this includes identifying the signs and symptoms of fatigue

Step 1: Assessing the Risks 

The first part in the risk management/assessment process is to identify all reasonably foreseeable hazards that could contribute to fatigue. Factors that can contribute to fatigue include

  • The mental or physical demands of work
  • Work schedules
  • Working times – including travel times to and from workplace
  • Environmental conditions, individual and non-work factors.

The second part to understanding and assessing workplace fatigue is to understand who and why it happens. This includes assessing

  • Where, which and how many workers are likely to become fatigued.
  • How often does it occur?
  • The degree of harm which results from fatigue
  • What action you need to take and how urgent the action needs to be.

Step 2: Preventing Fatigue

Once you have identified fatigue in your workplace the next step is to prevent and manage the risk. The key aim of any fatigue management is to ensure that hazards that pose an important risk to the health of the employee/ worker or to others who may meet occupational hazards are being properly controlled.

For Example:

Elimination: Eliminating night shifts in some areas or for high risk tasks.

Substitute: Increasing the length of breaks in a shift

Engineering: Improving ventilation and heating to improve alertness and ensure exposure to hazardous substances is reduced during extended shifts.

Administrative: Using a checklist to help foremen/supervisors identify and assess fatigue impairment.

PPE: Ensuring appropriate equipment is used. For example standard hearing protection devices may not provide sufficient attenuation over a 12-hour shift as opposed to a 7 hour shift.

What is reasonably practicable to do to manage the risk of fatigue will vary depending on the type of industry, the structure of an organisation as well as the person carrying out the work.

Some control measures may include

  • Using machinery to assist with tasks
  • Limiting periods of excessive physical/mental demands
  • Job rotations
  • Reducing the need to work excessive hours/overtime
  • Ensuring there are appropriate resources to carry out the work
  • Avoiding working during periods of extreme temperature
  • Training and encouraging workers/managers/supervisors to recognise signs of fatigue
  • Encouraging the reporting of issues and concerns

Step 3: Developing a Policy

A fatigue policy for all workers, managers and supervisors should be integrated as part of your overall health and safety management system or plan. The policy should be:

  • Specific to your organisation » Developed through consultation
  • Available to employees/workers and visitors (e.g. on display)
  • Communicated regularly and appropriately (e.g. at inductions), and
  • Reviewed to take account of changes in the organisation (including business needs and knowledge about risks)

This policy should include information about:

  • Maximum shift length, average weekly hours, planned breaks during a shift
  • Work related travel
  • Roles and responsibilities for all levels of the organisation
  • Procedures for reporting fatigue risks
  • Procedures for managing fatigued workers
  • Training programmes for employees/workers
  • Monitoring and reviewing the policy

Step 4: Training and Information

Training should be arranged so it is available to all workers and include:

  • The work health and safety responsibilities of everyone in the workplace
  • The factors that can contribute to fatigue and risks that may be associated with it
  • Symptoms of fatigue
  • The body clock and how fatigue can affect it
  • Effective control measures for fatigue, for example work scheduling
  • Procedures for reporting fatigue
  • Effects of impairment due to medication, drugs and alcohol
  • Nutrition, fitness and health issues relating to fatigue
  • Balancing work and personal demands.

Managers and Supervisors Should be trained to:

  • Recognise fatigue
  • Understand how fatigue can be managed and how to implement control measures, including how to design suitable rosters and work schedules in consultation with workers.
  • Take appropriate action when a worker is displaying fatigue related impairment.

Step 5: Monitoring

An appropriate level of supervision should be provided (for example a higher level of supervision for safety critical tasks), which may include monitoring work to ensure safe work practices are followed. Once control measures are implemented, monitoring and reviewing is required to ensure they continue to effectively manage fatigue.

Consider implementing trial periods for any new work schedules and encouraging workers to provide feedback on their effectiveness. To determine the frequency of monitoring and review consider the level of risk – high-risk hazards need more frequent assessments.