Dealing with Occupational Fatigue

According to the Worker Safety and Health Council (WSH), the number of workplace major injury cases increased marginally by 1 case in the first half of 2018 with 285 workers sustaining workplace major injuries and 5,727 workers sustained workplace minor injuries. The total number of man-days lost due to injuries was 244,791 and at a rate of 61 man-days lost per million man-hours worked.

There are several factors that contribute to workplace injuries, and fatigue in employees is one of the major reasons, more specifically – occupational fatigue.

Factors contributing to Occupational Fatigue

According to WSHC, poor work schedule can disrupt a person’s circadian rhythm as the body has to adjust to differing times thus contributing to the onset of fatigue. For example, it can include timing of shifts (e.g. night shifts), irregular roster patterns with insufficient recovery time between shifts and inadequate rest breaks.

Other non-work related risk factors related to occupational fatigue are the lack of quality sleep and rest due to poor work-life balance (e.g. family commitments), juggling several jobs, excessive travel time, environmental and medical conditions.

Effects of Fatigue

Fatigue can lead to an employee losing focus and make them more prone to making mistakes. In addition, it might cause them to be physically and mentally impaired, with slower reactions to situations and even lead to an increased risks of injuries.

Short-term effects of fatigue are more common and some examples are – losing the ability to concentrate on a specific task, slower to react to change in the environment and being unable to make sound and error-free decisions, remember details, control emotions and communicate well.

An example of a long-term effect of fatigue is workplace injuries. The effects mentioned above play a part in ensuring workplace safety, which cannot be done if the fatigue level among employees is consistently high. Hence, it is important to pay attention to safe work practices to prevent workplace incidents.

Consequences to businesses

How does it affect your business then? It may seem like a short-term problem to many bosses but if not managed properly, occupational fatigue can result in major negative consequences since employees are unable to perform efficiently. Businesses may suffer a fall in productivity levels of employees and a rise in staff absenteeism and turnover.

In the worse case scenario, it may even lead to severe work incidents or even death. Especially for the employees of labour-intensive industries such as the construction, factory and hospitality workers, it is important to avoid systematic failures in order to ensure safety for employees. These systematic failures occurs when the employers fail to ensure workers do not work extended hours (and thereby inducing fatigue), not having appropriate rest areas, lack of proper lighting in the work area and also failing to follow safe method of reverse-operation for forklift drivers.

Good practices to prevent the effects of occupational fatigue

Having proper work organization and medical interventions can help promote alertness among employees. Organizations in which employees work long hours or at night with safety-sensitive jobs such as the health care and transportation industries can benefit from addressing fatigue too.

Firstly, changes to work environment has to be made if there is inadequate lighting and ventilation which may induce sleepiness. With sufficient lighting, it can help to improve alertness and performance. Furthermore, there is a Code of Practice (SS 531) by Spring Singapore Standard for lighting of workplaces that companies have to follow. There should also be proper ventilation and temperature of the work environment. If it is too hot, employers can consider to provide anti-glare windows, shelters and insulate hot surfaces or pipes with aluminum or paint to reduce the amount of heat radiated.

Secondly, adjustments to work scheduling has to be made so that employees are not overworked and can carry out instructions safely and efficiently. For example, the manager in charge of work schedules can avoid quick shift changeovers – such as finishing at 11pm and starting work again at 7am, limit shift work to not more than 12 hours including overtime, introduce job rotation, implement a buddy system for work exigencies, long work hours or critical safety work activities where a reschedule is not possible.

Thirdly, redefining certain aspects of the job may be possible to prevent unnecessary build up of fatigue. If the work does not need to be urgently done in the night shift, it should be scheduled to daytime hours. Redesigning work practices also ensures that routine administrative tasks are minimised for night shift employees, allowing them to focus on core duties during night work. (Source: WSHC)


In conclusion, employers play a big part in tackling this issue. The first few indicators that serves as a warning sign are increased absentee rates, staff turnover rates and work-related strains such as a rise in injury claims. Just like the stress level of the working adults in Singapore, the fatigue levels are also consistently rising too. Hence, it is important for all of us to ensure that we are working towards reducing occupational fatigue and working in a safe environment.  

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