Fatigue is a work health and safety issue
- Fatigue amongst MOP(S) Act employees has implications for the health and safety of:
- Senators and Members;
- MOP(S) Act employees;
- other persons in a Senator or Member’s office; and
- members of the public.
- Fatigue can affect a person’s performance within the workplace.
- Fatigue can affect a person’s reputation.
- Fatigue creates risks for public safety.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act), Senators and Members, Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 (MOP(S) Act) employees and the Department of Finance (Finance) share the responsibility for preventing and managing fatigue in the workplace of MOP(S) Act employees.
Responsibility for administering the work health and safety for MOP(S) Act rests with the Ministerial and Parliamentary Services (M&PS) division of Finance.
This policy has been developed to:
- clarify who has responsibilities for managing fatigue (Section A);
- provide Senators, Members and MOP(S) Act employees with up-to-date information to assist them to recognise the causes and effects of fatigue in the workplace (Section B); and
- provide advice to Senators and Members and MOP(S) Act employees on how to manage fatigue in the workplace (Section C).
Health and safety in the MOP(S) Act employment environment
Some factors that may contribute to unique patterns of fatigue amongst MOP(S) Act employees, for example, extended Parliamentary sitting hours, or responding to the emergence of a 24‑hour news cycle, may appear to be beyond the control of an individual Senator or Member or MOP(S) Act employee.
However, under the WHS Act, Senators and Members, MOP(S) Act employees and Finance all have duties to consult, co-operate and co–ordinate activities with all other persons who have a duty in relation to the same WHS matter. By working together to encourage a culture of health and safety awareness, Senators and Members, MOP(S) Act employees and Finance can assist to eliminate or minimise the risks associated with fatigue in Senators and Members’ offices.
Senators and Members and MOP(S) Act employees are expected to comply with this policy within the current limits of the Commonwealth resources available to them.
Finance will consult on the content of this draft policy with:
- Senators and Members through the Parliamentarians' Consultative Group; and
- MOP(S) Act employees through the Work Health and Safety Committee
- consult with MOP(S) Act employees on matters relating to work health and safety, including fatigue management;
- provide broad work health and safety policy advice and assistance to Senators and Members and MOP(S) Act employees, in relation to fatigue management, through information on the Ministerial and Parliamentary Services website and training;
- provide specific advice and assistance in relation to fatigue management in the workplace, to:
- Senators and Members through the Advice and Support Directors; and
- MOP(S) Act employees through the Staff Help Desk; and
- maintain this policy, in consultation with Parliamentarians and the Work Health and Safety Committee.
Senators and Members
Under the WHS Act, Senators and Members must:
- ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers who carry out work for them in their capacity as a Senator or Member, including those MOP(S) Act employees that they employ;
- acquire, and keep up to date, knowledge of work health and safety matters, including fatigue, that affect their workplace. The information in Section B is provided to assist with this duty;
- understand the hazards and risks associated with fatigue in their workplace; and
- ensure that there are processes in place in their workplace to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety connected with fatigue;
To demonstrate that they have met these obligations, Senators and Members should:
- adopt this policy as part of the WHS risk management framework within their office;
- consider fatigue management, within the constraints of the current entitlements framework, when making decisions about MOP(S) Act employees’ work patterns;
- put in place systems within their office to monitor the wellbeing of their employees, particularly during periods of increased working hours; and
- consult with MOP(S) Act employees prior to making decisions that may impact on their health and safety, including in relation to travel and working hours.
- Senators and Members have a duty under the WHS Act to consult on health and safety matters, which is separate and additional to their duty to consult with MOP(S) Act employees on major changes under the Commonwealth Members of Parliament Staff Enterprise Agreement 2012-2015.
MOP(S) Act employees
Every MOP(S) Act employee has a duty under the WHS Act as a worker to take reasonable care of their own health and safety, and must not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons.
MOP(S) Act employees must:
- comply with any reasonable instruction and cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure issued by their Senator or Member, or Finance, relating to preventing and managing fatigue;
- monitor their own levels of fatigue and take steps to manage them; and
- use the Hazard Reporting Form to report any fatigue management hazards or incidents in their workplace.
- Hazard Reporting Form - 152 KB
The information in this section is provided to assist Senators and Members with their duty under the WHS Act to acquire, and keep up to date, knowledge of work health and safety matters that affect their workplace, including fatigue. It is also provided to assist MOP(S) Act employees to recognise and monitor their own levels of fatigue and to take steps to manage them.
Fatigue is physical and/or mental exhaustion that can be triggered by stress, medication, overwork, or mental or physical illness.
Symptoms of fatigue
Symptoms of fatigue vary but may include blurred vision, difficulty keeping eyes open, head nodding, drowsy feeling, irritability, falling asleep at work, micro sleeps, and feeling tired after sleep.
Effects of fatigue
The health and safety consequences of fatigue include:
- slowed reaction time;
- poor coordination;
- poor concentration;
- poor communication;
- high error rates;
- reduced vigilance; and
- reduced judgement and decision-making ability.
Longer-term health effects of fatigue include increased risks of:
- heart disease;
- gastrointestinal disorders;
- lower fertility;
- anxiety and/or depression.
Causes of Fatigue
Fatigue may be caused by factors including:
- sleep loss;
- long periods awake (greater than 17 consecutive hours);
- inadequate sleep (less than 7-8 hours each night);
- poor quality sleep; and
- sustained mental or physical effort;
- disruptions to circadian rhythms.
The body’s states of sleep and awakeness are regulated by the circadian clock, also known as the body clock. The body clock monitors the amount of light that the body is exposed to. As it gets darker towards the end of the day the brain begins to release a hormone called melatonin which prompts the body to fall asleep. Melatonin levels in the body remain high overnight and begin to decrease as morning approaches. This cycle is known as the circadian rhythm. A disruption to the circadian rhythm, such as working during the night, may put a person at risk of developing fatigue, even when they appear to be having adequate amounts of quality sleep.
Senators and Members should adopt an ongoing fatigue risk management approach within their office, in consultation with their workers, to:
- identify hazards;
- assess risks;
- eliminate or minimise risks.
This involves identifying aspects of the work or workplace that could contribute to employees developing fatigue.
Some examples of fatigue hazards are provided in the table below:
|Mentally demanding work||Concentrating on complex documents for extended periods|
|Physically demanding work||Carrying luggage long distances while travelling|
|Emotionally demanding work||Dealing with constituents with challenging behaviours, or sensitive problems|
|How the work is organised||
|Culture of the work environment||
|Individual lifestyle factors||
Once a fatigue hazard is identified, the risk of potential harm needs to be assessed in terms of its likelihood, and its impact on employees and the office environment. There are potentially significant consequences of fatigue in terms of individual psychological and physical health and increased potential for accidents and injuries to occur. Fatigue can make other risks to health and safety worse.
Eliminate risks of fatigue
The only long term effective strategy to eliminate fatigue is sleep.
Adults generally require 7-8 hours of sleep daily, however, this varies for each person. Sleep deprivation has been likened to the effects of alcohol. Being awake for 17 hours is the equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of 0.05; being awake for 20 hours is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of 0.1.
Minimise risks of fatigue
Senators and Members, and MOP(S) Act employees who manage others
There are several control measures that Senators and Members and managers can implement to minimise the risk of employees developing fatigue:
Mental, physical, and emotional demands of work
- ensure employees have workstation assessments as required, and are using any ergonomic furniture as recommended;
- within the current limits of the Commonwealth resources available, try to rotate jobs during busy periods, to reduce the number of times employees work long hours on successive days;
- within the current limits of the Commonwealth resources available and as appropriate, share or roster travel;
- develop strategies to support electorate employees who deal with complex constituent issues routinely; and
- consider whether an employee needs to be on duty when Parliament is sitting late.
Work scheduling and planning
- within the current limits of the Commonwealth resources available and as appropriate, redistribute resources and share work, so as not to place excessive demands on any employee;
- ensure employees take adequate and regular meal and rest breaks;
- ensure employees take sufficient annual leave each year to recharge – noting that some employees may also be entitled to excess (Canberra) travel leave; and
- during busy periods which may involve long hours, allow for and encourage ‘power naps’ in unused rooms within the office.
How work is organised
- encourage employees to report any hazards or incidents; and
- encourage employees to manage their health.
Senators and Members and all MOP(S) Act employees
Work scheduling and planning
- take adequate and regular meal and rest breaks;
- take scheduled short breaks during longer tasks to change your posture and refresh your concentration;
- during busy periods, take ‘power naps’; and
- take sufficient annual leave each year to recharge.
Individual and lifestyle factors
- avoid driving after working long hours;
- avoid driving for extended periods without taking a break;
- consider the effects of medication, drugs, and alcohol on your health;
- seek reputable information or professional support to improve your nutrition, fitness and health;
- balance work and personal lifestyle demands; and
- ensure adequate rest.
Travel presents particular fatigue risks within MOP(S) Act employment, due to the long distances travelled, the time demands, the intensity of the work undertaken, and the constraints of the employment framework. During peak work periods, it is worth evaluating whether physical travel is necessary, or whether another means of communication, such as telepresence or teleconferencing, would be safer or more efficient.
To the extent possible, and within the current limits of the Commonwealth resources available:
- avoid travel where other suitable communication options are available;
- avoid travelling in the early morning or late at night, particularly if driving;
- avoid scheduling an early start after travelling until late the previous night;
- avoid scheduling a late meeting, or staying late at an event if travel is scheduled to commence early the next day; and
- consider travelling on the day before or after official business, if feasible.
Driving whilst fatigued increases the risk of having a micro sleep and losing control of the vehicle. A micro sleep is a brief and temporary loss of consciousness lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a number of minutes. During a microsleep of just four seconds, a vehicle travelling at 100km/h will travel 111 metres.
Signs of Driver Fatigue
Fatigued drivers may experience some of the following symptoms:
- sore eyes;
- light boredom, restlessness;
- drifting of attention;
- occasional yawning, drowsiness, nodding off;
- difficulty concentrating; and
- missing traffic signs, drifting out of their lane.
Managing Driver Fatigue
A driver should not attempt to fight fatigue, however, precautions should be taken to avoid distractions and boredom whilst driving, such as:
- avoid driving during your normal sleeping time;
- share the driving, where possible;
- avoid fatty foods and foods high in sugar;
- use caffeine in moderation; and
- do not drink alcohol.
If an employee drives early in the morning, or late at night, they should take short ‘power naps’, as needed, to refresh. In addition, drivers should take regular breaks on long journeys. The NRMA recommends a 15 minute break every two hours.
A five minute petrol stop is not sufficient.
What to do
If you, your employee, or someone in your workplace is suffering from fatigue, the best immediate course of action is to rest, and if possible, sleep.
If you find that fatigue is an ongoing issue, a discussion with your Senator, Member or office manager may be appropriate to assist in developing alternative working arrangements within the office to prevent further instances of fatigue. The Employee Assistance Program is also available to assist employees with any work or non-work related problems.