Fatigue in the field: improving fatigue management in construction

UKG

By Nick Crawford, Practice Manager – ANZ/SEA, UKG
Wednesday, 12 October, 2022


Fatigue in the field: improving fatigue management in construction

Beyond just feeling tired, fatigue makes it impossible for workers to carry out their duties safely. It can reduce reaction times, increase the potential for error and cause workers to take dangerous shortcuts.1 Construction firms have a duty of care to their employees to manage fatigue effectively to minimise the risk of harm.

However, without clear visibility into the root causes and key patterns behind fatigue, construction firms can struggle to tackle this issue effectively. Failure to address the underlying factors that result in employees feeling fatigued can cause construction firms to experience significant negative repercussions. In addition to the immediate impacts, such as injuries, incidents and worker fatalities, construction firms can face longer-term consequences. These include worker absenteeism, inability to retain employees, lack of compliance leading to fines and reputational damage. Each of these can incur lost productivity and significant financial-related costs that impact the profitability and performance of an organisation.

Fatigue often creeps up on an individual — people don’t tend to wake up one morning and declare themselves fatigued. Instead, this insidious condition builds slowly until it culminates in an accident or incident. This means that construction firms must find a way to mitigate fatigue before it becomes tragically apparent.

Fortunately, there are workforce management tools that construction firms can use to manage fatigue risk effectively. There are three critical ways that construction firms can proactively manage the risk of fatigue:

1. Managing the hours an employee works

Construction workers have a minimum shift time of three hours and are entitled to a minimum of 12 hours between shifts.2 This means that an employee who finished work at 6:00 pm should not start work again the next day before 6:00 am. This is so the employee can get adequate rest and personal time.

It’s also important to consider the amount of overtime an employee has worked before creating the next set of rosters. A construction worker who has completed excessive overtime one week may need to be scheduled to work fewer hours the following week to give them a chance to recover.

While this may seem like common sense, it can be hard to manage without visibility and intelligent workforce management tools. And, the larger the organisation, the harder it can be to gain insights into which employees are working too hard or too often.

2. Gaining insight into fatigue-related trends

There are certain trends that can indicate fatigue within the workforce, including increased absenteeism, excessive overtime, numerous overnight or otherwise demanding shifts, errors and more.3 For example, construction workers who work long days during the summer heat can be susceptible to fatigue due to the challenging conditions. Construction firms and forepersons are often aware of this risk and may schedule additional breaks for workers to rehydrate and cool down. However, prolonged exposure to these working conditions can lead to fatigue, so it’s important to be proactive in dealing with these risks.

Getting an overarching view into these trends and risk factors is crucial for construction firms to make smart decisions to mitigate fatigue risk. Real-time, on-demand analytics let decision-makers easily visualise individuals and departments at an elevated risk of fatigue.

3. Alerting managers when fatigue risk increases

In an ideal world, all managers would proactively monitor their team members for signs of fatigue — however, this isn’t always feasible in the construction industry. Therefore, it’s important to implement a system that not only proactively notifies managers if their team members are facing an increased level of fatigue, but also allows employees to manage their own fatigue. With proactive notification based on overtime limits and rest violations, managers can act quickly to reduce the factors causing fatigue. Using a mobile application, employees can proactively request time off or swap shifts to reduce their own fatigue. The short-term cost of giving an employee a day off to recover from a long shift significantly outweighs the cost of an incident, should one occur.

Construction firms can take this proactivity a step further by implementing rostering systems that don’t allow them to schedule people to work if they face a higher risk of fatigue, or provide warnings when people are reaching fatigue limits. For example, suppose someone has completed excessive overtime, had a number of shifts with insufficient rest in between, or worked an unacceptable number of consecutive days. In that case, the system can prevent them from picking up additional shifts or hours. This helps the construction firm satisfy its duty of care to employees and avoid unintentionally exposing them to high fatigue risk levels.

As the construction sector continues to bounce back, unemployment remains historically low, and employee retention is critical. It is therefore important for construction firms to fulfil their duty of care to employees and, where possible, provide an exceptional employee experience. Managing fatigue risk effectively benefits employees and construction firms, so it makes sense for them to focus on and improve this area. By reducing the risk and likelihood of fatigue, construction firms can not only protect the health and safety of their people, but also reduce costs associated with absenteeism, staff turnover, incidents and accidents, and non-compliance. Construction firms should consider implementing sophisticated workforce management solutions to proactively address fatigue risk and provide a more engaging employee experience.

References

1. https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/safety-topic/hazards/fatigue/overview
2. https://lawpath.com.au/blog/a-guide-to-the-minimum-hours-for-shift-work-in- australia#:~:text=As%20per%20Australian%20maximum%20working,of%2012%20hours%20between%20shifts
3. https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/safety-topic/hazards/fatigue/overview

Image credit: iStock.com/dusanpetkovic

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