Fatigue in Construction:
The number one reason behind construction site injuries & fatalities?
Monday, the beginning of the working week. Alarm goes off, we hit the snooze, alarm goes off again, we moan then roll, drag, crawl out of our comfortable, warm beds to face the day. It appears, these days the struggle is real. We are like a continuous episode of the Walking Dead.
The reasons behind our tired feeling could be anywhere from self-inflicted late nights or to having trouble sleeping, but whatever the cause may be, it directly effects your work life on site.
We all know construction work can be dangerous and a long list of precautions must be adhered to by all trades working on site. Protective clothing, checking equipment is in good working order, keeping a clean working area, signage, all contribute to safe working environment – but is this any use if you are fatigued?
Now we all have moments of being tired and run down but if your facing each day with exhaustion, wanting to fall asleep, finding it hard to concentrate and your reflexes are slow, well then that is fatigue.
What is behind Fatigue in Construction?
Long hours – Every commercial construction project has a strict deadline and unfortunately when going past these contractual timeframes it may incur a cost to the Builder in the form of liquidated damages, which in some cases would have to be passed on to the Contractor who may have held up that portion of the build. Sometimes working longer hours is the only way to avoid this problem.
Employee sick days and bad weather all play apart in having to work longer to make up for lost time and productivity. A long commute to and from the job site adds to the days hours too.
Mentally and physically challenging workload – Whilst construction workers are trained professionals and carry out their tasks day in and day out, we tend to think that it is second nature and they should be a custom to the labour- intensive work, but they aren’t robots. Lifting heavy materials, climbing and digging can all take its toll on a worker’s body. Operating machinery and the concentration in doing so can also mentally fatigue a person on site. Not to mention the constant noise on site too which can be draining! Ear plugs are must
Working in the elements – Most work on a commercial site is done outdoors, until the building is up and the internal works begin, but before then workers are in the sun, wind, sometimes rain to carrying out their job. Add paint fumes and vibration of tools and we have a recipe for a very tired Joe Bloggs.
Personal issues and habits – Sometimes it is hard to leave the personal life behind when we begin our work day, so we drag this negative energy with us, which is like carrying another heavy load all day. Personal issues may be draining and upsetting which has a direct knock on effect to our productivity and how we just feel in general. Poor choices in diet, being a smoker, alcohol and drug use (hopefully not!) and being deprived of sleep is all directly related to tiredness and fatigue.
Fatigue and Fatalities?
The findings of a study conducted by the University of Sydney in 2010 found that fatigue is the number one risk factor for construction workers. Albeit, the study was conducted on four big Chinese construction projects, but it is believed that the findings are just as applicable to Australian construction sites. The study has found that fatigue mimics a blood alcohol level of 0.10% if not higher. Scary to say the least.
Now if we take those findings and look at the most recent reports published by Safe Work Australia in October 2016, which covers the period of 2003 until 2015 combined, we find that the construction industry has the third highest death rate amongst other industries. What that looks like in numbers is 469, Australia wide, with 48 being in Western Australia. Whilst the findings do not state the reasons behind the fatalities, one can intelligently assume that fatigue may have been a contributing factor to a portion of those deaths.
From January 1st ,2017 to 8th December 2017 there has been 29 fatalities in construction, Australia wide. Falls from a height, vehicle collision, being hit by falling objects, contact with electricity, being hit by moving objects and being trapped between stationary and moving objects are just some of the occurrences on construction sites.
What can we do to Reduce Fatigue within the Commercial Construction Sector?
Accidents are inevitable unfortunately, but everyone wants to be able to return to their families after a hard day’s work. We can aim to reduce the risk to workers on site by monitoring and engaging in safe site practices and actively try to monitor our levels of fatigue.
Managing workloads better – Having the appropriate number of employees on the job helps in relieving massive, unmanageable workloads. Less workers = bigger workload for those onsite.
Use of machinery – Using the correct tools and machinery to minimise “hard labour”. Often using equipment speeds up the time taken to complete a job and is less labour intensive for the worker. Think of a concrete pump, which makes it easier for the concreters to pour the concrete rather than doing it manually from a back-up concrete truck.
Weather conditions – Extreme weather conditions, namely heat, can cause tiredness to set in quite quickly. Starting work at dawn and finishing earlier is a way to avoid the worst heat of the day. If that isn’t an option, then keeping hydrated, taking rest breaks and avoiding direct sun if possible should be considered.
Taking breaks – Whilst taking too many breaks during the day can slow down productivity, having a decent lunch break where you can sit down and re fuel is paramount to feeling good and being able to handle the job at hand. In saying that, having a lunch of burger and chips, washed down with soft drink isn’t going to help the fatigue factor. Keep it green. Keep it healthy.
Talking about it – Sounds simple enough, but it’s human nature and the Australian way to solider on, no matter what the circumstances are, but if you are feeling fatigued (and you know your work mates have probably noticed the black rings under your eyes and turning up late to site regularly) it’s best to talk to someone. Communicate with whomever you are comfortable with.
Holidays – Not always affordable and doable for everyone but time away to eat, sleep and unwind does wonders for a person who works long, labour intensive hours. Even if annual leave it taken to stay at home and rest could prove beneficial.
Technology & Fatigue
Innovative ideas to try to combat worker fatigue have been developed over recent times. Wearable safety devices are used to monitor the worker and alert them to their changing conditions.
One of these inventions is The Smart Cap, which is an Australian product and it is effectively a band that is worn on the inside of a cap, hardhat or a beanie which monitors electrical brain activity (EEG). The information is sent to your smart phone app and from there a wearer can ascertain their level of fatigue and know it is time to take a break.
Click the link below to find out more
Another similar device, which is worn on the wrist is the CAT Smartband. According to CAT the band “utilizes non-invasive actigraphy to measure motion with an internal 3-D accelerometer. Data is downloaded into an analytics program that demonstrates how sleep patterns are impacted by shift schedules, and how sleep debt affects an individual’s effectiveness during work hours.
More information on the CAT Smartband below
There are other devices, some of which are yet to hit the market which may help to reduce and alert construction workers and their level of fatigue. Implementing such devices could really save lives and see a great reduction in the number of construction site accidents.
Hopefully this blog hasn’t made you yawn and you have retained some of it because the truth of the matter is fatigue is an issue. Although, construction site accidents, injuries and fatalities can occur for a whole number of reasons from mental stress to not following safety procedures and these are serious issues too, but not having the correct amount of rest will make every aspect on a construction site dangerous and even deadly.
Work Safe Australia
Occupational Health & Safety Online