Did you know that lack of sleep is a big cause of workplace incidents and accidents? And that the only way to tackle fatigue is to get a good night’s sleep?

Read on to find out about fatigue and the risks that go with it.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is lack of alertness, or drowsiness, caused by lack of sleep.

About our ‘body clock’

Circadian rhythm – also know as our ‘body clock’ – is the natural cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep, rise and eat – it regulates many of our physiological processes. Our environment has a key role to play, with things like lack of light or light exposure at the wrong time disrupting our circadian rhythm and impacting our sleeping.

60% of adults have sleep problems – struggling to get adequate rest a few nights a week or more

Did you know

We have ‘forbidden sleep zones’ – a term used to describe when we find it most difficult to fall asleep. There are typically between 8am-12pm and 5pm-9pm.

The main causes of fatigue

Time of day

Being awake when your body wants you to sleep, such as at night.

Length of time we’ve been awake

The longer we’ve been awake, the more we need to sleep.

Amount of sleep we have had

If we are not getting the sleep we need, it is likely we’ll start to feel fatigued.

Best time to sleep

Our body clock tells us when to sleep. The most valuable time to sleep is between 10pm and 7am

Why is sleep so important?

Getting sufficient good quality sleep keeps you energised and fit – it may help to protect:

  • Your performance – it aids memory consolidation, learning and concentration. Our ability to focus and receive and recall new information reduces with inadequate sleep
  • Your mood – it helps to regulate mood; lack of sleep can make you cranky, over-emotional and short-tempered
  • Your physical health – good sleep boosts immunity – so you can bounce back from a cold quicker, for example. It also helps regulate blood sugar and weight stability by maintaining a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin)
  • Your safety and safety of others – it helps you interpret events correctly, make decisions, be attentive and communicate
  • Your quality of life – good sleep is a key building block of feeling healthy and happy

The effects of fatigue

Fatigue affects everything, from our mood to general awareness, performance and health. So it impacts us when we work, drive, socialise; to sum it up, in all of the daily things we do which require:

• Sustained concentration
• Fast reactions
• Attention to detail
• Risk assessment
• Clear communication
• Seeing the bigger picture

The more fatigued we are the less likely we are to pick up on it.

Up to 1 in every 5 fatal and serious road accidents have fatigue as a contributing factor

Did you know

250,000 people die on the roads every year because of fatigue

How to sleep right

Getting good quality and sufficient sleep is essential if we’re to be at our best. If you sleep well, you’re more likely to work, communicate and drive well

Top tips for a good night’s sleep

  • Cool, dark, quiet sleeping room
  • Make sure to get plenty of sleep, on average we need seven to nine hours per 24 hours
  • Don’t set the snooze button on your alarm clock
  • Follow your bedtime routine
  • Minimise blue light exposure at least an hour before bed – no laptops, tablets, phones or TVs in the bedroom
  • Increase your sleep in 15-minute increments per week until you’re getting enough
  • Structure your work schedule for better sleep

Did you know

Being awake for 17 hours has a similar effect to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%
(Source: Driving for Work: Managing Fatigue Risks, RSSB)

Factors that can increase fatigue at work

Night shifts

Night shifts

Alertness and performance is at its lowest during the night, and the highest accident rate period is between 3am and 5am. Also, in general, workers are unlikely to adapt to night work – this is due to our circadian rhythms and the accumulated sleep debt that comes from lack of adequate sleep during the day.

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Research shows that overtime workers have a 61% higher injury rate compared to workers in jobs without overtime, and that the risks of non-fatal and fatal workplace accidents increase after the nine-hour mark of a long work shift.

Overtime added to the end of a shift can dramatically reduce time available for sleep, resulting in sleep debt. Overtime on scheduled days off can affect the opportunity for recovery sleep, which people may use to ‘repay’ their sleep debt.

Tackling fatigue at work is everyone’s responsibility

It’s down to everyone to help reduce fatigue risk in the workplace.

Employers and employees need to talk to identify the problem areas and work out the best solutions that will fit with the working environment and individuals’ lifestyles.

Managing fatigue in the workplace

Raise awareness of fatigue and the risks that go with it with a ‘How To’ guide, training video, short guide and poster – available in multiple languages.

(Materials have kindly been made available by Shell).

Learn about the dangers of driving while tired

Driver FATIGUE is a serious problem resulting in many thousands of road accidents each year.

You can help raise awareness of the dangers of driving while tired by using our safety resources.

This fatigue page is a work of the IOGP Land Transportation Subcommittee and the IOGP-IPIECA Health Committee