Being tired on the job is a health and safety issue many businesses have to grapple with, says a world authority on worker fatigue.

“Fatigue is just another hazard,” says Professor Drew Dawson, director of the Appleton Institute at the Central Queensland University.

“Businesses need to be aware that the effects of fatigue on performance are similar to the effects of alcohol. It’s not reasonable to be in the workplace under the influence of alcohol or under the influence of fatigue.”

Managing fatigue is also about making sure staff have had sufficient sleep to work safely, says Prof Dawson.

How tired is tired?

It’s tricky trying to predict how overtired someone might be based on their hours of work.

“The best predictor of how tired you will be is how much sleep you’ve had in the 24 and 48 hours previous to starting work — and how long you’ve been awake,” he says.
As a rule of thumb, you need:

  • five hours of sleep in the 24 hours before starting work
  • 12 hours in the 48 hours before starting work.

Before you go cross-eyed doing the sums, he offers a simple mantra: “Sleep buys you wakefulness.”

Managing fatigue

“Most people confuse fatigue management with their employment agreement and assume that if you comply with the rules of rostering, then it will be safe.

“It doesn’t take much thinking to realise this is not always true. For instance, if you’re up all night with a sick child, you will be unfit for work, irrespective of how long your shift is.”