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Managing fatigue risk: the role of line managers and supervisors

You need to manage fatigue risk, because people you line manage or supervise need to be awake and alert to do their jobs safely and efficiently. The effects of serious fatigue are comparable to being over the drink driving limit for alcohol. Fatigue can cause accidents, physical and mental health problems. It can affect people’s lives and livelihoods.

 

A line manager or supervisor’s role in managing fatigue risk

Whether you directly manage staff or are responsible for supervising their work, you have an important role in managing fatigue risk. You are your company’s eyes and ears, so it’s your job to know what is happening on the ground. This includes working with your staff to manage fatigue risk. You are also your company’s voice: what you say and do tells people that your organisation is committed to minimising the risk to safety and health from fatigue. The way you behave and respond to your staff will influence whether you find out about fatigue before or after an incident. Your responsibilities are to:

  • Learn about alertness and fatigue, what causes fatigue and what its effects are on people. Explore the Fatigue and you section of our website. If people you manage or supervise drive to or from work, or as part of their work, look up our resources on fatigue and road driving.
  • Promote a 'fair' culture where fatigue can be openly discussed, staff understand the expectations on them, and where staff and their representatives can report fatigue concerns without fear. Remember, sometimes, even those with the best of intentions may not be able to get enough sleep or rest.
  • Make sure individuals who you line manage or supervise understand their responsibility to get enough sleep and arrive for work alert and well rested, and report any concerns they have.
  • Support individuals in finding information, advice and strategies that will help them to get the sleep, rest and nutrition they need. For example, direct them towards your company’s guidance or occupational health.
  • Be your organisation’s eyes and ears. Look and listen out for things that might cause fatigue and for people who show signs of fatigue. Listen to your people’s fatigue concerns. Try to understand the causes, and then work with your company, the individual or trades unions to address those causes.
  • Follow your company’s processes to manage the situation when people are suffering, or are likely to suffer from, fatigue. If they are, or could become, so fatigued that health and safety could be affected, make sure they don’t put themselves or others at risk (by doing safety critical work, or even driving home). Do not ignore the situation.
  • Follow your organisation’s procedures in relation to fitness for duty assessment (including when there are changes to rostered duties, such as emergencies or overtime), reporting, investigation, and record keeping.      

Remember, you’re doing this because legally and morally it is the right thing to do.

Positive line manager and supervisor behaviour in managing fatigue risk

How you behave as a line manager or supervisor can have an enormous positive or negative impact on the management of fatigue risk.  Encourage proactive reporting and listen to your staff. It’s important to remember that fatigue is not always work-related. You may need to consider other factors.

Proactive behaviours

  • Visibly show your own commitment to fitness for duty.  Adopt the same behaviours you expect all your staff to.
  • Clearly state your company’s expectations for individuals to take personal responsibility for their own fitness for work.  Clearly define acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, based on your company policy.
  • Explain the procedure for reporting fatigue concerns to your staff. Make sure they are aware of what to do.
  • Take some time to get to know the people working for you.
    • Be observant of their general welfare and behaviour so you can recognise symptoms of fatigue (requires member login) in them as individuals. Make sure you know what the signs of fatigue are so you can be alert to it at all times.
    • Spend time with staff at different times of the day and/or within their shifts as part of a suitable supervision and monitoring process.
    • Think about how to engage with all the people you are responsible for, especially those who you don't see regularly such as contractors, part-timers or people on different shift patterns.
    • Ask staff about how they are feeling. Try to be aware of any changes or events in their lives which might impact fatigue. You don’t need to ask specifically about fatigue to pick up on clues about whether it is an issue.
  • Think about what you should say or do if someone reports fatigue or if you think someone is tired. Follow our guide.
  • Make yourself easily available for those who need to talk to you about fatigue, or report a fatigue concern. Even if someone is working in your team for just one shift, demonstrate that they can talk to you about any concerns by being friendly and approachable at the start of the shift.
  • Find out what help is available from your company. Occupational health or health and safety personnel might be able to help you in managing fatigue, or help your staff in addressing their own fatigue. Your company may have an Employee Assistance Programme.

When someone reports a concern

  • The first thing to do is acknowledge and thank them for reporting the issue.
  • Encourage them to talk; show them respect and sensitivity, and listen to what they have to say. Remember, sometimes, even those with the best of intentions may not be able to get enough sleep or rest. Use our guide on fatigue conversations.
  • Let them know you will treat the matter confidentially within company policy. Reassure them that you will only tell those who need to know.
  • Follow your company processes to deal with the report.
  • Find out the cause of the individual’s fatigue and work with them to find a solution.
    o In some cases, the individual will need to sleep and will not be able to work.
    o In some situations they will still be able to work, with some support or reasonable adjustments to their role, such as taking on tasks that are less-tiring or risky, or working with someone more experienced who can help them.
    o If the individual’s fatigue is related to a non-work problem (e.g. home life or stress), they may need other help such as an Employee Assistance Programme.
  • Get help from your manager if you have difficulties, for example if there is not enough resource to cover someone who is not fit for duty.
  • Inform anyone else who needs to be aware of the issue or any action taken to address it, in line with your company’s procedures.
  • Record the report and its outcome honestly.


What does this mean for your own work? Answer these questions in our self-evaluation (requires member login) to think about how you manage fatigue now, and how you could manage it in the future.

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