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Fatigue is more than feeling tired and drowsy. In a work context, fatigue is a state of impairment that can include mental and physical exhaustion which reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively.

Fatigue affects a person’s health, increases the chance of workplace injuries occurring, and reduces performance and productivity within the workplace.

Fatigue is a risk for shift workers

Shift workers are at greater risk because they:

  • may not get enough sleep, or get poor quality sleep
  • are usually trying to sleep when their body clock is programmed to be awake; between 6am and noon is the hardest time to sleep
  • may have problems concentrating on tasks
  • may suffer from increased physical and mental fatigue
  • often drive while they are fatigued or when their body clock is saying they should be asleep.

It's important that shift workers are alert – especially workers who are using machinery, working in dangerous conditions, responsible for human lives or driving a vehicle.

Advice for employers - how to identify and minimise the effect of fatigue in your organisation

Advice for employees - your responsibilities and how to reduce your risk of fatigue

Driving home after a shift

Driving home after spending extended hours at work, or after completing a night shift is a risky time to drive. As you drive home you will be feeling sleepy, it may be dark and your body will be preparing itself for sleep. Your body may be at its low point in alertness and you may be sleep deprived.

If you are feeling drowsy, you may occasionally drift in and out of sleep without knowing it. Although these micro-sleeps may only last a few seconds, they can be fatal when driving as you may not brake before colliding with another object.

Those involved in working extended hours or some form of shift work, are six times more likely to be involved in a car crash than other workers.

Reduce the risk of fatigue when driving

  • If in doubt, don’t drive yourself – there are other ways to get home besides driving. If you are very fatigued it is better to use public transport or call a taxi. Some workplaces have a work vehicle that is used to drop people home. Some shift workers get their partners to collect them. Another option may be to have a nap at work before driving home.
  • Speed and fatigue are also a bad combination – as your speed increases you have less time to react and when you’re tired, fatigue also slows your reactions. It's better to pull over and take a nap before resuming the trip.
  • Power naps help you avoid fatigue – power naps can improve how we function. An ideal nap is 15 to 30 minutes. More than this can make you feel groggy. If you are overcome by fatigue when driving, you should pull over somewhere safe, apply the handbrake, and have a power nap. If you come home in the early morning and go to bed, you will probably be awake in the early afternoon. You should have a nap just before you leave for work again. Power naps are important for night-shift-workers. Research shows that even a short power nap of 15 minutes can make you more alert for a short period of time.

Find out more about driver fatigue and how to reduce the risks