What is workplace fatigue?

What is fatigue and its symptoms?

Fatigue at work

Fatigue is often described as a feeling of constant tiredness and feeling drowsy.

The symptoms of fatigue can include:

  • Extreme tiredness (there could be other reasons why you could be feeling tired)
  • Feeling sleepy
  • Muscle pain
  • Struggling to concentrate
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Low mood
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Poor judgement

What is workplace fatigue?

Workplace fatigue can be described as an individual’s reduced ability to perform their job effectively. This can be due to physical tiredness and mental exhaustion. These symptoms can develop over time and can be detrimental to overall wellbeing and productivity if not addressed.


Why is workplace fatigue a problem?

workplace MSDs

Workplace fatigue can negatively affect safety and productivity. The symptoms of fatigue can increase accidents and injuries.

The long-term effects of workplace fatigue can include MSDs. Work-related MSDs are often associated with working environments where workers are required to stand for most of their day. They are usually characterised as problems that can affect upper limbs, the back and lower limbs.

Workplace fatigue statistics:

  • 36% of days lost in 2015/16 were due to upper limb MSDs.
  • 7% of workers complained of work-related backache.
  • 26% of days lost in 2015/16 were due to lower limb MSDs.

According to the HSE:

Fatigue has also been implicated in 20% of accidents on major roads and is said to cost the UK £115 – £240 million per year in terms of work accidents alone.

What are the signs of fatigue?

Signs of fatigue pain

These signs can often indicate if an employee is suffering from fatigue:

  • Visible signs of pain or discomfort while standing or sitting
  • Absenteeism
  • Regular yawning
  • Looking drowsy
  • Changes in working behaviour
  • Lower productivity
  • Struggle to concentrate
  • Reduced level of good judgement
  • Slower reflexes

Whose responsibility is it to manage the risks of workplace fatigue?

Workplace shopfloor

Employers have a duty to ensure that reasonable provisions are in place to manage fatigue in all working environments. They must ensure that individuals are not exposed to health and safety risks.

Health and safety managers should ensure that:

  • Regular working environment risk assessments are carried out and any issues improved within an appropriate time scale.
  • Regular maintenance should be scheduled for working environments. This could include maintenance of machines, safety flooring, lighting, and safety signage.
  • The health of workers is acknowledged and monitored in order to prevent any long-term problems.

Workers should be encouraged to:

  • Ensure that health and safety guidelines are followed.
  • Recognise when they are fatigued and raise any working concerns with their supervisor.

How can workplace fatigue be managed?

Workplace fatigue examples

Each workplace will have different risks to consider for managing fatigue effectively.

Key risk factors every workplace can assess:

  • Being aware of the elements that can trigger fatigue.
  • Are there any accidents or injuries that could be a cause of fatigue?
  • Having appropriate measures in place to identify and prevent fatigue.
  • Implementing regular reviews to ensure anti fatigue measures are working effectively.
  • Wherever possible, offer employees the ability to alternate between sitting and standing.

We outline below how two different working environments can manage employee fatigue.

How to manage office environment fatigue

Walking meeting

  • Taking regular breaks from computer screens, to reduce eye fatigue.
  • Routine eye tests are also recommended to prevent eyestrain.
  • Mental fatigue can also be reduced by introducing regular breaks.
  • Alternating between sitting and standing positions to reduce physical fatigue and sedentary behaviour. Sit stand behaviour can be promoted with the use of standing desks.
  • If standing desks are an option, appropriate standing mats should be installed.
  • Regular desk assessments should be carried out to prevent physical fatigue. This will include ensuring good lighting in the workspace.
  • Having walking meetings will help prevent physical fatigue from prolonged sitting at a desk. Prolonged sitting has been described as a silent killer.

Take the Sitting Calculator test

Commuting to work (by car, bus or train) + sitting at a workstation + sitting down for mealtimes + watching TV + sleeping = Total Sedentary Time.

It all adds up! (from SUFH eBook) Find out more about sit stand health in our eBook #StandUpForHealth.Sitting calculator

Sedentary behaviour is the term given to sitting for 4+ hours a day. Some health professionals warn this is the equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes. Many adults sit for more than 7 (some up to 10) hours a day.

The NHS warns: “Studies have linked excessive sitting with being overweight and obese, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and early death. Sitting for long periods is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat.”

How to manage industrial environment fatigue

Anti-fatigue mat

  • Regular workstation assessments should be carried out to ensure appropriate anti fatigue matting is in place, to reduce standing fatigue.
  • Where possible offer the opportunity to alternate between sitting and standing. This will reduce physical fatigue and problems associated with prolonged standing, such as MSDs.
  • Taking regular breaks to prevent mental fatigue and physical fatigue.
  • Ensuring the working environment has good lighting and ventilation, especially if chemicals are being used for manufacturing.

Anti–Fatigue Mats Finally Explained in our Video

How can workplace fatigue increase?

Factors that can increase fatigue are not always obvious, again each working environment will have differing risk factors.

Below are a few elements to consider:

  • Can environmental factors contribute to fatigue?

This could be due to excessive noise, prolonged standing or even hot or cold working conditions providing a high fatigue environment. Chemicals, oils or other liquids could contribute to an uncomfortable environment to work in.

  • Can working hours impact fatigue?

Some workers are required to work outside the usual 9am – 5pm shift pattern, this can play havoc on the body clock making individuals feel fatigued.

  • Can insomnia impact fatigue?

Insomnia can cause daytime fatigue, it can affect a person’s ability to make sensible decisions and function normally.

What types of workers are at high risk of fatigue?

  • Workers required to stand for most of their working day.
  • Shift and night shift workers.
  • Workers on call.

How can you decrease workplace fatigue?

Workplace fatigue can be reduced by having appropriate checks and processes in place to ensure employee wellbeing. These could be enhancing things already in place and introducing essential equipment products such as anti-fatigue matting and standing desks.

For more advice on how to reduce the effects of fatigue in your working environment get in touch with one of our experts.

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