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Workplace Fatigue – Current Landscape and Future Considerations

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Canadians are experiencing unprecedented levels of workplace fatigue due to a combination of professional, societal and personal pressures

Physically and/or mentally demanding workloads, long hours, sleep cycle disruption and inadequate restorative sleep are a few of the factors contributing to higher levels of workplace fatigue in Canada. The purpose of this report is to examine the current landscape and establish considerations that can guide fatigue risk management going forward, including identifying policies and practices for Canadian workplaces and exploring the need for a national standard or other standards-based solutions.

Definitions of Workplace Fatigue

Workplace fatigue is complex and is currently without consensus on its definition. It can be examined and explored from various perspectives including the origins of fatigue, the biological state of fatigue and the potential consequences of fatigue as it relates to the workplace.

Canadian guidance on fatigue include its causes (i.e. physical, mental, sleep, health and emotional), states (i.e. subjective, physical and mental) and effects on performance (i.e. physical and mental). These may be considered a foundational definition for fatigue across all sectors.

Legislation, Best Practices and Guidance

Several jurisdictions, including Australia, the United States (US) and South Africa have conducted reviews on legislation and best practices related to workplace fatigue. Some Canadian federal, provincial or territorial regulations related to fatigue have also been developed. Regulated industries in Canada (e.g. motor carriers, aviation, rail, marine and nuclear) have more comprehensive guidance on workplace fatigue than non-regulated industries.

Approaches for Managing Workplace Fatigue

Few companies have shared details of their fatigue management approaches, resulting in a lack of research on their efficacy. Practices currently used in Canada can be grouped into three approaches:

  1. Prescriptive Rules (e.g. hours of service rules/restrictions);
  2. Tactical Approaches (e.g. short duration initiatives that may be part of a larger strategy);
  3. Strategic Approaches (e.g. Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS), Fatigue Risk Management Plans or Fatigue Management Programs that consist of several tactics).

Education and Training

Education is needed to raise awareness about the impact of fatigue and underline the need to implement a fatigue risk management strategy (FRMS) within organizations. Training is also required to develop the skills needed to identify hazards, mitigate risk, and develop and implement an FRMS. A scan of educational programs and training frameworks currently used to address workplace fatigue in Canada revealed common educational content and training approaches. However, the method of delivery and amount of content varied by agency. While some companies recommend the use of a qualified trainer, few had identified the prerequisites necessary to evaluate trainer qualifications.

Canadian Workplace Considerations

Two fatigue-related risks warrant special consideration for Canadians. These include remote working locations (i.e. fly-in/fly-out (FIFO)) and remote lodgings (including sleeping away from home). These conditions should be considered and addressed in the overall approach to managing fatigue, as well as in training and education segments.

Conclusions

The development of a national standard or standards-based solution may help to address gaps in the existing legislation, industry standards and guidance documents related to workplace fatigue.

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