• Kate Gardner
  • 12 May 2015

Fatigue and safety in the workplace

The latest in our series of blogs, originally produced for SHP Online, in the lead up to the IOSH conference 2015, comes from our Lead Tutor, Kate Gardner, who looks at fatigue and safety in the workplace.

How much of an impact is fatigue having on your business? Working hours have become a crucial factor for many companies as the line between working and leisure time has become more flexible. In addition, there is also a trend globally for working hours to extend into evenings and weekends as we move towards a ’24 hours’ society, which has also coincided with both organisational and societal changes.

According to results from the third European Survey on Working Conditions, only 27% of employed and 8% of self-employed people were operating a ‘standard’ 7 or 8am to 5 or 6pm Monday – Friday working pattern. The International Labour Organization (ILO) states that the annual hours worked per person exceeded 36 hours per week in 27 out of 52 countries that it monitors.

For some Asian economies, it is very common for people to exceed 44 hours working per week, while in the USA, one fifth of the workforce regularly work more than 50 hours per week. The European Company Survey 2013 showed that 66% of companies offer some form of flexible working hours for staff.

Working extended or irregular hours can have negative consequences for health and wellbeing. Shift and night working are shown to have an impact on Circadian Rhythms creating symptoms, which in the short term are similar to those of jet lag including fatigue, reduced mental ability and performance efficiency. Modern commutes are often long and this can have a significant impact on sleep, especially if the combination of working and social patterns is factored into the mix. There is a risk that where people are allowed to determine their own working hours, they may impose routines that are excessively fatiguing as they fail to allow sufficient time off for rest. Statistics reveal that losing as little as one and a half hours sleep for just one night reduces daytime alertness by about one-third.

Excessive daytime sleepiness impairs memory and the ability to think and process information. Sleep deprivation also leads to mood alterations, attention deficits, slower reaction times and increased risk for accidents.

A study carried out in the USA on travellers on trips crossing more than two time zones and lasting two to four days revealed some interesting findings:

  • A few hours of lost sleep combined with business travel significantly reduces performance.
  • Business travellers perceived themselves as performing at a much higher level than they actually were performing (a 20% drop).

Tiredness and fatigue also has a negative impact on resilience and mental health. Tired people find it more difficult to cope with difficult situations leading to increased stress. As the immune system is affected by stress, this can also lead to people becoming more susceptible to illness.

As part of the Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress campaign, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has launched its e-guide on managing stress and psychosocial risks. Stress is an important occupational safety and health (OSH) concern in about 80% of European businesses and is one of the main reasons for lost working days in Europe. However, less than a third of European establishments have procedures in place to deal with work-related stress. The e-guide is a practical tool to help both employers and workers, particularly of small businesses, better understand and manage stress and psychosocial risks.


The central theme for IOSH 2015 is ‘Leadership in action’ – how to recognise leadership, demonstrate it, and develop it. Strong leadership throughout an organisation is one of the fundamental drivers of a successful safety and health strategy. A lack of leadership, on the other hand, can cast doubt on a programme or strategy, and have a lasting negative impact on an organisation.

The IOSH conference, taking place 16-17 June at ExCeL, London, will feature case studies showcasing exceptional leadership and examples of where it's had a profound impact. High-level speakers and representatives from global and UK organisations, from a wide range of sectors, will share their insights, achievements and experience helping you develop your own successes.

Attracting over 700 of your peers, the event will provide the perfect platform to share ideas, learn from others and take advantage of proven leadership methodologies and practical ‘know how’ that can be implemented in your workplace. 

Secure your place today by clicking here.