Fatigue can be a killer: stay safe this season
05 January 2009
Fatigue can be a killer at work, particularly in the summer months and in the agricultural sector.
“Being hot and tired is a recipe for disaster,” says the Department of Labour’s Ona De Rooy. “Working in the hot summer months can be uncomfortable, and there may be extra pressures such as bad weather and big workloads.
“People can feel tired and irritable, and therefore make more mistakes and be at particular risk of serious injury or even death. This means it’s more important than ever to take steps to eliminate or minimise the risks.”
Ms De Rooy, the Department’s Waikato and Eastern Region Manager, says it is the duty of employers to provide and maintain a safe working environment.
“Farms are unique environments where families work and live, and so this raises unique challenges that other business operators don’t have to consider. For many people in the agricultural and horticultural sectors, looking after yourself as well as your staff may be critical.
“Fatigue can kill, so don’t just make sure your staff take a break and drink plenty of water, but take your own advice as well. Taking a break might just save your life – or your children’s.”
Not replacing the water you lose through everyday activity can cause severe health problems. Symptoms of dehydration are thirst, a dry mouth, rapid pulse, feeling drowsy, disorientated and irritated. All these symptoms affect performance and judgement at work, especially during the hotter months.
Don’t just drink water when you’re thirsty – your body could already be dehydrated by then. You need to drink at regular intervals.
Many jobs provide the perfect opportunity to stop for a second and have a drink.
For example, if working with machinery have a drink of water when you stop to refuel or reload. If you need to stop to open farm gates, have a drink of water at the same time. Little and often is the key.
Mental performance and concentration all start to decrease with increasing temperature and dehydration. Poor and/or reduced performance not only affects production, but also safety.
Ways to manage dehydration:
- Tell staff about the causes of dehydration and how to recognise the symptoms
- Have a buddy system in place – including for yourself
- Provide sufficient fluids to prevent workers becoming dehydrated
- Consider altering the work schedule so that heavier work is done during cooler periods
- Where practicable, provide shade for outdoor work
- Allow rest breaks to be taken in cooler areas
- Ensure that workers are fit and not taking medication that will impair their ability to cope with heat
Working in hot temperatures
In many work situations it is not be possible to control uncomfortable temperatures, but things like clothing, physical activity and the timing of the work can be carefully managed, for example:
- If you can pick the time of day to carry out physically exerting tasks, do them either early in the morning before it gets too hot, or in the evening
- Wear a sunhat when outdoors
- Drink plenty of water - avoid tea, coffee and soft drinks with high sugar content
- Take shorter, more frequent rest breaks
- Wear lighter-coloured and lighter-weight clothing, preferably cotton
- Assign lighter duties and longer rest periods for the first week of hot summer weather
- Promote healthy eating.
Rest and recuperation in the workplace
People can't go on performing at a high level without breaks of some sort, and breaks need to be matched to the intensity of the work. As well as a lunch break, taking even just 10 minutes at least every couple of hours to relax, have a drink of water, bite to eat and a chat with colleagues can make all the difference.
Regular breaks prevent an accumulation of fatigue and promote morale and productivity.
For more information about keeping safe this summer, see www.dol.govt.nz/takecare
Note radio stations: we have audio for this release – you can download it from our website (see Downloads, top right column)
Please note that health and safety services, formerly referred to as Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) should now be referred to as the Department of Labour.