Anna Czerny report from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health conference in London

Employers should be given training and guidance on how to deal with overworked and fatigued employees, a leading academic on health and work has said.

"The first thing that's needed is fatigue awareness training and there are a number of counter-measures available," said Andrew Smith, professor of psychology and director of the Centre for Occupational Health Psychology, University of Cardiff. "What's missing is a procedure for employers for selecting from this menu."
Smith said fatigue at work was a common problem but that current legislation regulating working hours, such as the working time directive, did not go far enough to address it. "Guidance needs to be more targeted to the specific action rather than general," he said.
Smith cited ongoing research on fatigue in seafarers that showed how certain factors affected the risk of fatigue. Seafarers were 2.5 times more likely to be at risk of fatigue at sea if they had poor sleep and 2.75 times more likely if they experienced psychological distress. Poor sleep quality and working longer than 12 hours a day both put seafarers 1.75 times more at risk of fatigue at work.
Smith said the research, which will be published in October, could be applied to other jobs but he didn't expect it to lead to employers enforcing a good night's sleep on employees. "For safety-critical jobs we should be monitoring fatigue as much as alcohol," he said. "The difference is that alcohol is very easy to measure but fatigue is not."