The Coronavirus COVID-19 is a new infection that is rapidly spreading around the world, affecting millions upon millions of people. Not only are we at risk of catching the virus, it’s having a game-changing effect on the way we do business (or cannot do business for many). So much so that the saying ‘keep calm and carry on’ doesn’t really seem to offer much comfort these days. This is a pandemic of epic proportions.
As an employer, you may be in a situation where you’re having to make business decisions of ‘epic proportions’ on a daily basis. Your people will likely be feeling anxious and stressed, and will be looking to you for guidance and counsel. In addition to operational considerations, such as using technology to facilitate virtual instead of face-to-face meetings, it is just as important to consider how you approach the health & safety of your employees, particularly with respect to fatigue management.
What are your obligations?
Let’s first revisit our fatigue management obligations as an Employer or Person Conducting Business Undertakings (PCBU).
Fatigue is an Occupational Hazard that is required under the Heath & Safety at Work Act 2015 to be managed just like any other hazard in the workplace. As a PCBU you have a duty to eliminate risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable; and if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate those risks, to minimise them so far as reasonably practicable.
Your obligations to manage fatigue during this period remain the same, albeit you’re likely to have additional considerations you will need to review to ensure that you have the right controls in place to mitigate the risk. This is especially important if you have staff working remotely from home offices, or undertaking essential services - such as health care workers, transport operators, primary industry workers and utility workers.
A fatigue risk assessment should include a review of:
For those working in an essential service, especially frontline personnel, it is very likely that their sleep will be negatively impacted by the long hours, night shifts, high stress and consecutive work periods without a break. While humans can temporarily operate on limited sleep, it is important to understand that reaction times, performance, communication skills and concentration can deteriorate very quickly - putting themselves, their co-workers and the community at risk.
The irony is that getting enough good quality sleep is what will help to keep their immune system strong, their resilience high, maintain a positive mental health state and their ability to function safely during the day (or shift).
Remember that fatigue impairs you similarly as if you were drunk. Studies show that being awake for 17 hours creates an impairment equivalent to 0.05% Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)1. You need to factor in the hours spent awake, not just the hours spent on duty.
The key factor in managing fatigue is thus ensuring employees are getting enough sleep!
What can you do?
Share these ideas to help staff manage their sleep & fatigue:
With a background in natural health, Rachel has been specialising in the area of occupational fatigue management for the last 11 years, including regularly leading Fatigue Management Masterclasses, as well as presenting at a number of industry conferences to speak on the subject of fatigue management. Rachel facilitated NZ’s first research study on the prevalence of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in a Commercial Driver population, which was co-funded by ACC and the Log Transport Safety Council (LTSC). Rachel remains very involved with the LTSC’s efforts to identify & support high risk OSA drivers, and currently sits on the Sleep Apnea Association of NZ (SAANZ) committee. https://www.frms.co.nz/