What is workplace fatigue?

Posted by Pia Abrahams on

Australian construction worker, ambulance officer, warehouse worker, school teacher and office worker illustrating the impact of workplace fatigue.

Workplace fatigue is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that can significantly impact a worker’s productivity, concentration and overall wellbeing.

In today’s fast-paced and demanding work environments, it’s becoming increasingly common for people to experience fatigue, which can have far-reaching consequences.

As well as reducing a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively, workplace fatigue can also have negative consequences for an organisation.

1. What are the signs and symptoms of workplace fatigue?

Workplace fatigue is a pervasive issue that can have far-reaching consequences for both employees and organisations. 

Fatigue at work can manifest in a wide range of cognitive, physical, and emotional impairments, including:

  • Excessive yawning or drowsiness, need for sleep at any opportunity
  • Short-term memory problems and inability to concentrate
  • Impaired decision-making and judgment
  • Reduced hand-eye co-ordination and reflexes
  • Blurred vision or impaired visual perception
  • Irritability, stress, reduced emotional engagement
  • Increased absences
Australian warehouse worker suffering from workplace fatigue.

2. What are the common causes of workplace fatigue?

Workplace fatigue can stem from many factors, both within and outside the professional environment.

These contributing causes can be attributed to various aspects of a person’s work life, including:

  • Work schedules - shift and night work, overtime, insufficient breaks between shifts.
  • Job demands - intense concentration or physical work, repetitious or monotonous work
  • Work environment - excessive heat, cold, vibration, noise
  • Sleep habits - lack of sleep, poor quality sleep, cumulative sleep debt
  • Lifestyle factors - family responsibilities, health conditions, commute times

3. What are the work health and safety impacts of workplace fatigue?

Workplace fatigue poses a significant threat to the health and safety of workers with far-reaching consequences that can manifest in both the short and long term.

These adverse effects encompass a wide range of issues, including:

  • Short term - reduced alertness, increased errors, escalated incidents and injuries
  • Long term - heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders, lower fertility, anxiety, depression
Australian construction worker suffering the impact of workplace fatigue.

4. How can risk management and prevention reduce workplace fatigue?

Employers and workers have a duty to help ensure fatigue isn’t a work health and safety risk.

Effective risk management strategies and preventive measures are crucial in mitigating the impact of workplace fatigue.

By adopting a proactive approach, organisations can identify potential hazards, assess the associated risks and implement reasonable and effective control measures to safeguard their workers’ wellbeing and ensure operational safety by:

  • Identifying the hazards - workers operate high-risk machinery on consecutive night shifts
  • Assessing the risks - risk of injury is high due to fatigue from sleep debt
  • Implementing reasonable and effective control measures - make changes so that workers only operate low-risk machinery on night shifts
  • Reviewing controls for effectiveness - closely monitor, report and review night shift activity

5. What are the benefits of preventing workplace fatigue?

Addressing and preventing workplace fatigue doesn’t only ensure worker wellbeing; it’s also a strategic investment that can yield significant benefits for organisations.

By prioritising fatigue management, companies can unlock a range of advantages that positively impact their operations, workforce and and bottom line. These benefits encompass:

  • Better health and safety outcomes
  • Fewer workplace incidents and injuries
  • Reduced absenteeism and staff turnover
  • Improved performance and productivity
Australian office worker enjoying better health and safety from reducing workplace fatigue.

Cultivating a supportive workplace culture

Fostering a supportive organisational culture that values workers’ wellbeing can go a long way in combating workplace fatigue.

Encouraging open communication, providing resources for stress management, and recognising and addressing signs of fatigue can create a more positive and productive work environment.

Cultivating a workplace culture of trust and respect, where workers feel valued and supported, can foster a sense of psychological safety, reducing stress and burnout. Regular check-ins, worker assistance programs and access to mental health resources like an EAP (Employee Assistance Plan) can further bolster a supportive workplace environment.

Nurturing a supportive workplace culture is not just a matter of implementing policies but also fostering a mindset that prioritises workers’ wellbeing as a crucial component of organisational success.

By creating an environment where employees feel cared for and empowered, organisations can foster a more engaged, productive, and resilient workforce while mitigating the adverse effects of workplace fatigue.


Workplace fatigue is a significant issue that can have far-reaching consequences for both employees and organisations.

By understanding the causes, recognising the impact and implementing effective strategies to combat fatigue, organisations can create a healthier, safer and more productive work environment.

Addressing workplace fatigue requires a collaborative effort between employers and workers, and prioritising workers’ wellbeing is the cornerstone of any successful organisation.


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