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Fatigue Management — A Guide For Employers

Published April 08, 2019 (last updated March 9, 2023) - Head of Health and Safety

More than the occasional yawn or low energy, fatigue can become a serious health issue, impacting safety, productivity and workplace efficiency. If not addressed early it can even lead to other health conditions in employees, some of them chronic.

Fatigue doesn’t just impact the physical and mental health of your employees, it also impacts the health and safety of everyone else in the business. Also, depending on the particular job and responsibilities of the employee, fatigue can put the public at risk. Fatigue causes a lack of focus, slower reaction times to both situations and signals. It also affects an employee’s ability to make sound decisions. This can increase the risk of injuries, incidents, and accidents happening at work.

We all play a part in ensuring a safe workplace, and while we commonly think of manual handling and hazards as the most common safety risks we need to address, fatigue is also an important factor employers must consider.

Workplaces Causes of Fatigue

Fatigue can be work-related, it can be related to one’s personal life or it could be a combination of the two. It can also be an accumulation over time or a short-term problem. Causes of fatigue in the workplace can include:

  • Prolonged intense physical (or mental) activity
  • The internal body clock being disrupted
  • Excessive travel
  • Working in exceptionally cold or hot environments
  • Organisational changes
  • Scheduling
  • Long shifts
  • A lack of recovery time between shifts
  • Strenuous labour
  • A long commute

While employers can’t manage the aspects of an employee’s personal life that could be contributing to their fatigue, there are things you can do in the workplace to manage the risk and impacts of fatigue.

Fatigue Management Strategies

Worker Consultations

Speak to supervisors, managers, and your health and safety reps to discuss the impact of your work schedules and workload expectations. Be sure to consider work outside of normal hours, as well as work-related travel.

Analysing Work Practices

Look at work practices, consider worker records such as time sheets, and systems of work. Monitor and review human resource and workplace incident data to find patterns.

Organisational Pressures

Are there resourcing, structural or process-driven reasons that employees could be experiencing fatigue? These might include:

  • Demands of the job
  • Work schedules
  • Rosters and shift work
  • Environmental considerations

There is no easy answer when it comes to addressing fatigue, often it is a multi-faceted approach that involves various aspects of an employee’s personal and professional life. But there are some simple tools and tactics you can introduce to your workplace that will help proactively manage fatigue:

  • Being aware of the upcoming changes to rest and meal breaks for all employees
  • Strictly adhering to the prescribed rest, meal and shift breaks outlined in your industry (if applicable)
  • Developing and implementing a fatigue management policy
  • Capping weekly working hours
  • Ensure overtime hours are not excessive and cause risk to an employee’s health and safety
  • Providing employees with at least two consecutive days off
  • Where possible, arranging the start and finish times of shifts for convenience with public transport, as well as domestic and social activities.
  • Taking an employee’s travelling time into account.
  • Leading from the front by committing to work/life balance and adopting healthy, sustainable working hours

Your employees should be provided with training and information regarding the factors that contribute to fatigue, as well as the associated risks. This will help them accept the controls that you implement, and improve how they perform in their role. If creating a fatigue management policy, then you should ensure training is provided to all workers and the policy is readily available to all employees.

Once you put controls in place, it’s up to you to monitor them to ensure they are effective and remain so. You may want to consider implementing a trial for any changes in rosters and schedules and allow your employees to offer feedback throughout. If you are changing any terms and conditions of employment, make sure you follow a fair process and document any changes accordingly.

If you need helping developing policies, procedures and workplace controls to manage fatigue, we can help you. Contact Employsure for a confidential discussion on employee fatigue, and the various ways we can support your business.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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