Fatigue at work is a serious problem that is often not given the recognition it deserves, yet it can cause both personal and organisational ill health in many ways.
Fatigue is just as likely to contribute to performance impairment as drugs or alcohol, and fatigued employees are three times more likely to cause, or have, an accident in the workplace as their productivity dips over the course of the working day.
Defined as ‘the temporary inability to respond to a situation because of previous mental, emotional or physical over-activity’ fatigue is not easy to measure, but its risks must be managed. One way of doing this is through the use of the correct safety equipment to help reduce both the probability of fatigue and manage its impact.
Causes and effects of fatigue
There is a wide range of possible causes of fatigue at work. These include heat or cold stress, vibration, noise, musculoskeletal problems, long hours or shift work, as well as the general health of the worker and their personal home life.
Fatigue can have a knock-on effect, causing a deterioration in, motor functions, clear thinking, levels of concentration and responsiveness. The consequences of this, not surprisingly, include an increased risk of mistakes, injuries or accidents and illness, including sleep disturbances, anxiety, irritability and hormonal disturbances with possible fatal consequences if workers fall asleep.
The long-term effects of fatigue can be very serious. It can lead to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, gastrointestinal disorders, lower fertility, and may impact mental health. Plus, of course, there are the ill effects on the organisation in terms of absenteeism, lost production and worker dissatisfaction and therefore, high employee turnover.
How fatigue arises
Fatigue can originate from the periphery of the body, meaning that the musculature is no longer able to maintain performance because the muscles are not receiving the supply of energy they require.
Fatigue can also be triggered centrally, by the nervous system becoming tired before the muscles. This disrupts the body’s central control system, which can impact the way in which signals are relayed to muscles, causing tiredness.
How the correct safety equipment helps prevent fatigue
Taking the example of safety footwear, which can play a huge role in supporting the wearer in the workplace and mitigating fatigue at work. Safety footwear ranges from the traditional leather lace-up boot to a fashionable trainer, but what all types have in common is protection for the foot and relief from strain in a wide variety of circumstances and industries.
Some modern safety footwear is ergonomically-designed, lightweight, flexible and comfortable, reduces back pain and stress and increases wellbeing. It may be non-slip or penetration-resistant and use the latest technology to add features, such as supporting and cushioning the natural movement of the entire body. The best safety footwear should be supple, allowing freedom of movement without discomfort e.g. when kneeling, and happily worn all day. Other features to look out for is a breathable upper and seam-free liner. These all help improve the overall comfort for the wearer.
Boots and shoes may have toe caps, be antistatic, water/heat/cold resistant, non-metallic, have distinct tread patterns or any combination of these features according to the risks from the job they offer protection for. They must fitted and used correctly, maintained and stored properly, and be regularly inspected. Workers should be trained in their use and care.
The lighter the footwear and the greater the shock absorption, the less hard the muscles in the foot, leg and back must work, reducing strain and allowing performance to be maintained for longer.
Comfort is extremely important for wellbeing. If the climate of a shoe is optimised so that the strain felt by the wearer is as low as possible or even totally removed, this reduces the mental pressure of being uncomfortable and therefore, reduces fatigue.
Safety footwear v anti-fatigue matting
Anti-fatigue matting is commonly used in the workplace as it seems an easy solution to the fatigue problem. However, it is often only placed in front of work stations so as soon as the employee leaves their area, they lose their anti-fatigue properties. Anti-fatigue matting also comes at a high cost but requires regular replacement and maintenance to keep it clean and germ-free. These additional factors are often overlooked.
Providing better quality footwear with cushioning or multilayer shock absorption properties gives consistently better levels of individual protection from fatigue. This benefits the worker’s health in terms of consistent musculoskeletal relief and reduced risk from trip hazards. It removes the need to supply anti-fatigue matting as well as its high maintenance and removal costs.
Cost in use
As with all PPE, companies get what they pay for with safety footwear. The finest safety footwear may seem at first to be expensive, but value for money is not necessarily about price, but about how much the product costs over its lifetime.
Quality, durability and performance are more important than price in the long run to prevent fatigue. If worker downtime is reduced by avoiding fatigue, it is obvious that cost in use is improved, so buying footwear based on the price tag alone can be a false economy. Cost should be looked at over the whole life span of the product. Remember, workers are also more likely to wear, and take care of, superior products, avoiding the sticky problem of non-compliance.
Fatigue in the workplace can be a killer, but there is a lot that can be done to mitigate this via the provision of the correct safety footwear. Including this footwear in their fatigue risk management strategy is recommended for all organisations, for their, and their employees’, all-round benefit.
About uvex group
The uvex group brings together three globally active companies under one roof: the uvex safety group, the uvex sports group (with uvex sports and Alpina Sports), and Filtral. The uvex group is represented in 22 countries by 48 subsidiaries but chooses to do most of its manufacturing in Germany and Europe. Two thirds of the company’s 2.600-strong workforce (as at FY 2016/2017) is employed in Germany. uvex is a global partner to international elite sport and equips a host of top athletes. The motto protecting people is at the heart of the company’s activities. uvex group develops, manufactures and distributes products and services for the safety and protection of people at work, in sport and for leisure pursuits.
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