Joining the dots: sleep, health, safety & performance at work

Gone are the days when fatigue was only a concern for traditional round-the-clock industries like mining or transportation. While the immediate impact of worker fatigue in your workplace may not be as catastrophic as, say, the Chernobyl nuclear incident in which fatigue was a contributing factor – it can absolutely still have a major impact on your employees, your company and your bottom line.


Worksafe states it very clearly: “Fatigue affects a person’s health, increases the chance of workplace injuries occurring, and reduces performance and productivity in the workplace”.


Research gives us valuable insights into the measurable impact of fatigue. Beyond stating that it can reduce your reaction times or hand-eye coordination, it provides insights as to what extent. Research has shown that being awake for 17 hours has a physiological effect on your focus akin to a blood-alcohol level of 0.05; being awake 20 hours is equivalent to having a blood-alcohol level of 0.11. Would you like one of your staff members performing a safety-critical task within an hour of consuming 4-5 beers?


There are numerous studies in Australia, the UK and the US that have looked at the error rate of nurses and other medical professionals in patient care during overnight shifts and long-call situations. The increase in error rate in relation to job time and/or sleep deprivation is undeniable – showing that the measurable impairments in cognitive and physiological function absolutely do have a flow-on effect to job performance. In addition to poor job performance, the increased rates of motor vehicle accidents while commuting to and from these particular working rotations are also higher. Job performance is compromised, risk of error, accident or injury while at work is increased, and the risk of personal injury outside of work is increased. Not to mention the risk to members of the wider community with drowsy, accident prone drivers on the roads. Is this a risk you’re willing to take?


A study by Spurgeon also suggested that in addition to night work or long shifts, long work hours overall have negative impacts on safety and health. She concluded working more than a 48 hour week significantly increased the risk of mental health problems. If she is alluding to stress or depression then you can bet it’s costing you or your company money. According to the University of Melbourne and VicHealth, work pressure is costing Australia’s economy $730 million a year, directly affecting your bottom line.


Spurgeon went on to conclude that an average work week of 60 hours or more significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease – Australia’s biggest killer.

Clearly fatigue presents a significant health and safety issue that, if ignored may be impacting on the productivity of your workforce, contributing to health costs and may be jeopardising your safety record.


We understand that industries vary in many ways, as do the demographics of workforces. Therefore, a blanket approach to fatigue management is not the answer. You need to consider your specific work environment, and where possible include your workers in the development of your policy.


Fatigue is one of those issues that can be difficult for an employer to effectively manage because of the need for a one-to-one approach. The education needs to go beyond the walls of your workplace and include other lifestyle issues, such as sleep patterns, nutrition choices and physical activity levels. After investigating some of the possible hidden costs fatigue may be having in your workplace as outlined in this whitepaper, a thorough approach incorporating several strategies may have a very positive impact.


Health by Design provide comprehensive health, safety and lifestyle programs that include a very individualised approach. The benefit of this is that program material is delivered to your workers in a manner that is applicable to them as individuals. Personal coaching in combination with tailored health promotional material can maximise the engagement of your workforce, and improve the amount of information learned and subsequently integrated into the daily behaviours of your workers. In terms of fatigue management, educating your individual employees on personally relevant lifestyle components such as sleep patterns, relaxation techniques, the role of food and exercise on sleep quality and individual pre-bed routines may help improve sleep outcomes. In addition, helping them personally with time management and lifestyle balance can all have a profound impact on reducing fatigue induced by our modern lives.


Get in touch today.



  1. Worksafe Victoria (2008): “Fatigue: Prevention in the Workplace”; Worksafe Victoria, Edition Number 1, June 2008.

  2. Dawson, D and Zee, P: “Work Hours and Reducing Fatigue-Related Risk: Good Research vs. Good Policy”; JAMA. 2005;294(9):1104-1106

  3. Ross, J: “Fatigue: Do You Understand the Risks to Safety?”; Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing. 2008;23(1):57-59

  4. Dorrian J. Tolley C. Lamond N. van den Heuvel C. Pincombe J. Rogers AE. Drew D: “Sleep and errors in a group of Australian hospital nurses at work and during the commute”; Applied Ergonomics. 2008;39(5):605-13

  5. .Ricci, J.A; Chee, E; Lorandeau, A.L; Berger, J: “Fatigue in the U.S. Workforce: Prevalence and Implications for Lost Productive Work Time”; Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2007;49(1):1-10

  6. Spurgeon, A: “Working time: it’s impact on safety and health”; International Labour Office Report. Geneva: International Labour Organization, 2003\


  8. The Australian Heart Foundation website:

  9. The Australian Bureau of Statistics website:

  10. Australian Government – Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government website: