A recent survey of over 1,000 construction workers has revealed a troubling picture. In an industry dominated by shift work and hard physical labour, worker fatigue continues to be the cause of mistakes, accidents and even fatalities. And it would appear that many respondents agreed, with 75% saying they thought worker fatigue remains an issue within the sector.
The Considerate Constructors Scheme
The survey was conducted by the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS), a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1997 to help improve the image of the construction industry and encourage best practice. Its Spotlight on… worker fatigue campaign was launched in late September, and is the latest in a long line of campaigns raising awareness of issues facing the construction sector. The campaign aims to educate people about the potential impact of worker fatigue, and the ways in which it can be managed in order to mitigate its negative effects on productivity, as well as on workers’ mental and physical health.
While worker fatigue is not a problem unique to the construction sector, it is certainly more common than in many other professions. There are various reasons for this. Firstly, shift work is a highly prevalent working pattern across the industry, while tight deadlines and pressure to complete projects often leads to a significant amount of overtime. Furthermore, tasks usually require physical exertion as well as mental focus and concentration, all of which contribute towards fatigue. Combined, difficult working conditions, long hours and inadequate breaks make it easy to see why fatigue continues to be an issue in construction.
I’m just a bit tired…
A recent study from Westfield Health revealed that a shocking 86% of UK employees don’t feel confident about speaking to their line manager about fatigue. While the British instinct to keep a stiff upper lip and get on with things is admirable in certain circumstances, failing to talk about fatigue in an industry like construction (which suffers from a higher than average number of workplace accidents) is dangerous. According to HSE, fatigue can lead to:
- Slower reactions
- A reduced ability to process information
- Memory lapses
- Decreased awareness
- Lack of attention
- Underestimation of risk
- Reduced coordination
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does give an indication of why fatigue leads to so many accidents, as well as why improving the situation is so vital – it will literally save lives.
What can employers do?
The onus is on employers to ensure they are not overburdening their operatives, that they are given regular breaks and that shifts are not scheduled on a back-to-back basis. On the CCS campaign webpage, a range of recommendations are provided to promote best practice, including the implementation of a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS), via which risks linked to fatigue are identified, monitored, controlled and regularly reviewed. Monitoring staff workloads and ensuring that operatives aren’t pushed beyond their limits (especially when project deadlines are imminent) is also important, as is introducing shift patterns that enable staff to get the sleep they need to function at their best. New technologies such as smart wristbands or helmets, which monitor changes in physical movement, can also help to keep track the signs of fatigue and thus help managers deal with it effectively. A culture of openness, in which staff feel able to speak to management openly about issues affecting them at work, is also instrumental in helping employers to keep a better eye on fatigue in their workforce.