SignOnSite Blog

Construction Fatigue: A New Approach

Aug 30, 2018 10:08:57 AM / by Mitchell Scott

We’ve realised that SignOnSite is in a unique position to help tackle worker fatigue, because our automatic sign on feature ensures an accurate digital attendance register across the whole site.

This article outlines our thinking around fatigue and how we can help. Since we’re currently in the process of planning this capability, we’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback!

 

Worker fatigue is an age-old problem plaguing industries of all shapes and sizes – despite truckloads of research proving the negative effects it can have on individuals and the workplace as a whole.

Construction workers are at a particularly high risk of experiencing fatigue because of their demanding workloads, physical strain and prolonged working hours. There is also the risk that workers will exit one job site, only to turn up to another after minimal rest and continue working.

Although proper scheduling is often cited as a way to prevent fatigue, this reflects an idealistic view of the world and doesn’t take into account the messy reality of everyday life. Things change rapidly on-site, and some workers are quick to place things like fixing defects on tight deadlines, or working overtime to pay extra bills, ahead of a much-needed break.

The dangers of fatigue

Research shows that being awake for 17 hours is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of 0.05.

Those who suffer fatigue often experience:

  • Slower reflexes
  • Impaired decision making
  • Blurred or impaired vision
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Short term memory problems

Even when they do catch some shut eye, workers who have fatigue usually have slower recovery times, and need longer periods of sleep to feel truly “rested”.

And while worker fatigue can have serious physical and mental consequences for the individual, it can also wreak havoc in the workplace. In addition to the increased risk of accidents stemming from impaired decision making, there is also a risk to the employer who is generally considered responsible for preventing it.

Contributory negligence

Under the Fair Work Act (Building and Construction Award), workers who work overtime are required to have a minimum 10 hour break between finishing work one day and starting work the next day. If they have worked more than 20 hours, they must have at least a 12 hour break.

Other considerations do apply here, but in essence, employers have a legal duty of care towards their employees. If this is breached, it can result in claims of contributory negligence. In terms of fatigue, this means that the employer can be seen to have acted negligently if they fail to take steps to prevent worker fatigue which results in an accident or injury.

Managing fatigue en masse

When you only have a few workers, managing their schedules and looking out for physical signs of fatigue is relatively simple. However, when you’re responsible for hundreds of workers (and possibly across multiple job sites), it can prove very difficult.

In addition to managing shifting work and schedules, one solution to the problem has been to manage certain environmental factors which may lead to increased fatigue.

For example, excess noise and severe temperatures have been shown to increase fatigue. So finding ways to reduce noise impact, or “cool” areas with excess heat, may allow workers to be more productive and reduce the fatigue associated with that activity – thereby decreasing the fatigue risk.

This begins to approach a “holistic” approach to fatigue management, because while work schedules may look good on paper, they don’t really take human nature into consideration. E.g.: the worker who needs extra money so does everything in their power to work a double shift. Or the person who gets so caught up doing one thing during the day, they never get around to doing another, so needs to finish late and start early tomorrow morning.

Our vision for a holistic approach

At SignOnSite, we are incredibly passionate about preventing worker fatigue. We have spoken at length about it with many of our clients, who have told us it’s a huge problem in the industry, and one that’s particularly difficult to address.  

So, we’ve been working on how SignOnSite can help prevent fatigue.

One of the barriers to understanding who’s at risk of fatigue is having accurate attendance information. On projects with SignOnSite workers and staff are automatically signed on when they walk onto site. This finally makes site attendance data reliable, so we’re able to empower site staff to manage fatigue before it happens.

Even better, we’re exploring the ability to monitor worker fatigue across multiple job sites in a day, which would flag cases of worker fatigue where they would otherwise have been undetectable.

 

Let’s take this example. Ben wakes up and arrives at Job Site 1 at 7am. He signs off at 4pm, and heads straight to Job Site 2 where he works until 11pm fixing urgent defects.

The Site Manager on the second site may have no idea that Ben has already worked 9 hours. To the Site Manager a 7 hour shift (even if it’s a late one) doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Unfortunately, Ben has just started the shift and has already had 9 hours on the tools. He’s probably tired and he’s using potentially dangerous equipment – not a recipe for success.

We’ve also been considering how our system can help with situations where:

  • Workers have had less than 10 hours between finishing work and starting in the morning.
  • Workers do a very long day, split up into a number of shifts across several sites.
  • Workers arrive from a site managed by another company using SignOnSite, and are at risk of fatigue on the next job.

Our mission is to arm site staff with the information they need to have the right conversations on site, so they can manage workers’ safety more effectively.

At the heart of it, it’s about creating a safer working environment for all: empowering workers to do right by themselves and their workplace, and helping our clients manage their obligations with the least amount of stress and paperwork as possible!

We need your help! We want to hear your thoughts on our approach to worker fatigue, and what you think will put an end to fatigue in the Construction Industry.

Feel free to leave a comment below, or drop us a line at team@signonsite.com.au.

Topics: Construction

Mitchell Scott

Written by Mitchell Scott

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