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Top 10 tips to address sleep fatigue at work during #Sleeptember

Top 10 tips to address sleep fatigue at work during #Sleeptember


Dr Karen McDonnell offers advice on how employers can tackle the vital issue of fatigue during #Sleeptember.

Fatigue is a major but under-recognised hazard in the workplace, adversely affecting workers’ health, safety and wellbeing as well as overall organisational effectiveness. Fatigue contributes significantly to accidents at work, at home, on the road and in other settings. It damages health and significantly reduces quality of life.

Driver fatigue is a serious problem.

Department for Transport research suggests that it may be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents, and up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents.

Sleepiness increases reaction time, which is a critical element of safe driving. It also reduces vigilance, alertness and concentration so that the ability to perform attention-based activities is impaired.

The speed at which information is processed and the quality of decision-making are also hindered by fatigue.
According to The Sleep Charity it is estimated that 40% of the population suffer with sleep issues which can impact significantly on day-to-day life.

It has found that a worker sleeping less than six hours a night loses around six working days due to absenteeism or presenteeism per year more than a worker sleeping seven to nine hours.


So, the RoSPA message during Sleeptember is how can employers start to address the issue of fatigue?

Here are our top 10 ten tips:

  1. fatigue.pngFully consult with your workforce and their representatives about the organisation’s overall approach and your programmes of work to address the problem of fatigue
  2. Develop and communicate a clear policy that destigmatises fatigue
  3. Deliver workplace awareness-raising about fatigue and how to avoid it, including steps to improve and maintain good health and good sleep hygiene
  4. Train both line and middle managers to raise their awareness and help them to develop necessary interpersonal skills to engage with individuals about fatigue and the issues involved
  5. Take account of fatigue in all risk assessment processes, particularly for safety critical work, which includes driving
  6. Review fatigue as a possible causal factor in all accidents and incidents
  7. Consider any difficulties in travel to and from work which may contribute to fatigue
  8. Avoid workers driving when dangerously tired, both when driving for work and driving to and from work
  9. Engage outside experts to help
  10. Ensure appropriate occupational health support.

Shift work

Crashes caused by tired drivers are most likely to happen after having less sleep than normal, after long working hours or on journeys home after long shifts, especially night shifts. By taking advantage of more favourable patterns and allowing sufficient recovery time, it is possible to balance the needs of both worker and workplace. This can lead not only to a reduced likelihood of fatigue-based human error leading to accidents, but also to optimised alertness and decision making.


RoSPA recommends that employers should:

  • Ensure that workers have the opportunity to have enough time between shifts to sleep as well as to attend to all the tasks of daily living
  • Restrict consecutive night shifts to a maximum of two to three, or two 12-hour shifts; and allowing at least two days off after the last night shift in a string of such shifts
  • Always rotate shifts forward (early shifts changing to afternoons and afternoons changing to nights)
  • Avoid long shift patterns and limit overtime.

Access RoSPA’s road safety guidance here.

Laura Aucott

Dr Karen McDonnell is RoSPA's Occupational Safety and Health Adviser and Head of RoSPA Scotland. A Past President of IOSH, Karen represents RoSPA on The Sleep Charity Advisory Board, the Council for Work and Health and the International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organisations.


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