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Using real-time data to pre-emptively reduce fatigue risk

Image of Nish Bandara
Nish Bandara

People working in the construction industry are at high risk of suffering from fatigue. The workers on site are at particular risk because of their demanding workloads, physical strain and prolonged working hours. The risk of falling asleep at your desk is one thing, but it's another to be nodding off while you're operating a crane.

The responsibility of managing fatigue falls on everyone: businesses, their managers, and the individual.

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. 

The challenges

It's not uncommon for construction workers to work through fatigue. They might continue to work to 'just get it done' or work extra hours for financial reasons. This human challenge is a complicated one. The current approach is to engage in communication, consultation and conversation that encourages and enables the individual to act safely.

This doesn't take away from the employer's responsibility to provide reasonable working hours, including rest/break time. Most employers will have policies to ensure this happens, and will work to make sure that it does.

However, there are plenty of scenarios where employers will be unwittingly working in information blind spots.

Here is an example:

Fatigue animation optimised

Ben wakes up and arrives at Job Site 1 at 7 am on Monday. He signs off at 4 pm and heads straight to Job Site 2 where he works until 11 pm fixing urgent defects that need to be addressed. 

The Site Manager on the second site may have no idea that Ben has already worked 9 hours. 

This is the challenge for the construction industry: the workers are distributed and transient (we've covered this our contact tracing article).

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 difficult—particularly when the human element comes to play. 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.

Real-time data

This where real-time data can flag a risk - and it doesn't need to come from a complicated system like cameras and AI.

The solution could be the same thing that's been used for decades - the attendance register. But rather than using a passive, paper-based system, using a digital one could bring all your sites together and flag the risk in real-time. 

In the example above, the Site Manager can chat with Ben about why he is working such long hours, and whether he needs to head home for a rest.

Multiply this by the hundreds of people across multiple sites - that's a real opportunity for construction companies to take a pre-emptive move against fatigue and its associated risks.


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