Fatigue can have serious consequences for worker safety when poorly mitigated and managed. With some of the most catastrophic disasters in recent decades being attributed to fatigue and/or human error, the Australian Pipelines and Gas Association (APGA) has developed comprehensive Fatigue Management Guidelines to ensure the industry provides employees with a safe working environment.

The reality is that fatigued workers are less productive, do not perform as well, experience more health issues, and are significantly more likely to be involved in an incident at work or on the roads. Worker fatigue is not only a risk to the individual’s safety; it also poses a risk to the health and safety of all those present in the work environment, as well as members of the community. The impact of fatigue-related incidents is widespread, impacting workers, organisations, families and the broader community.

As a result of the identified health and safety risk that fatigue poses, increasing focus has been placed on understanding the impacts of fatigue on a worker’s cognitive and physical performance, as well as determining best practice strategies to mitigate and manage the risks of fatigue within organisations. This is the key driver for ensuring that employers understand what steps need to be taken to effectively address fatigue across their workforces.

Fatigue is a critical issue for organisations, and it requires considered management. Merely ensuring compliance with legislative requirements by adhering to prescribed drive, work and rest hours is not enough to ensure all workers are provided with a safe work environment.

Good fatigue management practices encompass a Fatigue Risk Management System that incorporates a systematic approach to risk management, adequate training and education for workers, and well-developed and implemented policies and procedures to support proactive fatigue management strategies.

The Australian Pipelines and Gas Association has prepared guidelines for workers in the pipeline industry, with the intent to encourage the adoption of uniform fatigue management practices across the industry.

What is fatigue?

The term ‘fatigue’ is a general term used to describe the feeling of being tired, drained or exhausted.

It is a physical condition that can result from inadequate or disturbed sleep, physical exertion, mental exertion, or prolonged waking times. Fatigue can be, in some cases, a natural response to the mental and physical effort of everything we do, and adequate sleep is essential for restoring the balance and promoting recovery.

Signs and symptoms of fatigue can typically be grouped into three categories: physical, mental and emotional. A range of factors can contribute to fatigue.

Fatigue is a risk to which anyone can be exposed on a daily basis. With the lines between work and home life being blurred by the use of technology and ever increasing demands on time, the ability to balance family, work and social activities is complex. While a certain level of fatigue can be a normal response to everyday living, high levels of fatigue can have a range of undesirable outcomes for the individual, the organisation and the community.

Implementing a fatigue risk management system

As part of the Fatigue Management Guidelines, APGA is advocating for organisations to develop a comprehensive Fatigue Risk Management Policy to better mitigate some of the potential risks associated with fatigued workers.

As with a safety management policy, the fatigue management policy document outlines what commitments an organisation will make in order to manage fatigue-related risk and how these mitigations will be conducted in the organisation.

There is much that can be gained by industry members supporting each other to achieve positive outcomes regarding fatigue management.

Within organisations, stakeholders must discuss the best strategies for the organisation in managing fatigue risk. All levels of the organisation should be included in consultation processes and provided with opportunities to make suggestions and recommendations. All relevant stakeholders need to be educated regarding their role in managing fatigue and equipped with the necessary knowledge and abilities to enact such practices.

At the industry level, strategies to manage fatigue can be enhanced through a defined commitment to share knowledge and information about tried and tested fatigue management approaches. With a broader commitment, and the establishment of a minimum benchmark for fatigue management, the industry should see improvements in safety performance through improvements to the fatigue management culture and decreases in fatigue-related incidents.

Next steps

To ensure your organisation is doing everything it can to protect health and safety with regard to fatigue, conduct a review of your fatigue risk management policy against APGA’s Guidelines, which can be found at APGA’s website www.apga.org.au.

Jessica Dickers is an experienced journalist, editor and content creator who is currently the Editor of Utility’s sister publication, Infrastructure. With a strong writing background, Jessica has experience in journalism, editing, print production, content marketing, event program creation, PR and editorial management. Her favourite part of her role as editor is collaborating with the sector to put together the best industry-leading content for the audience.

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