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Section C – Managing Fatigue in the Workplace

Risk Management

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.

Identify hazards

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:

Fatigue hazard Example
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
Work schedule
  • Insufficient recovery time between work hours
  • Time of day/night that the work is undertaken
How the work is organised
  • Working in groups if the employee’s preferred style is to work alone
  • Working alone where there are multiple, conflicting priorities (eg at an information stall)
Culture of the work environment
  • Working long hours, even when it’s not required
  • Staying at work ‘in case something unfolds’
  • Many staff being on duty after hours, instead of rostering, or being on call
  • Routine use of substances that mask fatigue, such as caffeine, or ‘energy’ drinks
Individual lifestyle factors
  • Health conditions
  • Home environment
  • Second jobs
  • Extended travel between home and workplace
Travel
  • Travel that starts early
  • Travel late at night
  • Driving when already fatigued
  • Driving long distances
  • Travel with unreasonable timeframes

Assess risks

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

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.

Driver Fatigue

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.

Last updated: 06 November 2019