Fit for work? Not likely...

Following several high profile workplace tragedies over the last couple of years, many business are now taking employee fatigue more seriously. Are your employees really ‘fit for work’?

Fit for work? Not likely...
In November 2013 a young intern working in the banking/financial services industry suffered an epileptic seizure – believed to be caused by overwork – and consequently died.
In October that same year, the so-called ‘Mona Vale inferno’ in Sydney’s northern beaches was a devastating trucking accident caused by fatigue. The human cost was tragic: two dead, five injured. Add to that the environmental damage caused from leaking fuel and massive business costs: Cootes Transport Group was hit with more than $50,000 in fi nes and penalties, incurred $9m in compliance costs, lost major contracts and restructured from being one of Australia’s largest transportation groups into a small, specialist transport company.
While it’s true that fatigue-related incidents in transportation and frontline industries such as mining, healthcare and aviation land in the headlines, the first example above – as extreme and isolated as it might appear – demonstrates that white-collar professions could also benefit from a focus on fatigue management and more effective time & attendance management.
Fatigue management brings wider benefits as part of an overall workforce management strategy. Aberdeen Group’s 2014 report, Bottom Line Reasons for a Total Workforce Management Strategy, highlighted:
  • 4% increases in revenue per FTE for those organisations with a workforce management solution
  • 9% boost in workforce utilisation capacity
  • 6% improvement in customer satisfaction scores
James Kissell, director of marketing at WorkForce Software, says that in any industry, regulated or not, fatigue can take a toll on business performance. There are strong parallels (and research) showing how working as a fatigued employee is akin to working under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In fact, being awake for 17 hours straight has been equated to having a blood alcohol content of .05 – the legal limit for most drivers in Australia.
Why it matters
The most significant impact is on productivity, worker safety and even employee satisfaction. WorkForce Software’s white paper, titled Examining the hidden costs of fatigue: Risks & remedies for Australian businesses, provided these insights:
  • There is increased likelihood of errors amongst fatigued workers. When tired workers are faced with tasks that require alertness, mental acuity or decision-making (in short, most jobs), a measurable decrease in accuracy and quality will result. Fatigued persons are slower at interpreting visual information than alert peers – a limitation that can have significant impacts on job performance.
  • Fatigue can also lead to an increase in tolerating or undertaking risky behaviour. Fatigued individuals frequently have a very different opinion of what’s ‘good enough’ compared to fresh, non-fatigued colleagues. Fatigued workers are prone to cutting corners, which can have a negative impact on everything from worker safety to the quality of your brand and its products and services.
Fixing the problem
Fortunately, there are solutions. The first essential step is preventing the work conditions that cause employee fatigue in the first place. A thorough review of all jobs and shifts within the organisation will identify those functions that cause fatigue, require statutory rest periods or are at risk of fatigue-related incidents.
A step further is to provide an automated technology solution in order to better manage the three components that make up fatigue management.
  • Time & attendance: This is your master record of hours worked, spelling out who worked, on what task and for how long. Having accurate information about time worked is crucial to knowing which employees may be approaching the threshold of fatigue.
  • Rostering: Here you define who is going to work on what project, as well as when they’re going to start and stop. This view into projected work hours allows managers to avoid fatigue risks in advance when scheduling employees. Fatigue management alerts prevent managers from trying to schedule an employee who is fatigued or could become fatigued as a result of working a specific shift or shifts.
  • Fatigue factors: A configurable rules engine tracks the rules, regulations and policies that govern your organisation’s fatigue mitigation strategy. This allows you to create a system that meets the unique needs of your business and allows managers to override alerts in certain circumstances. To be maximally effective, it must be able to consider different factors for specific jobs, in order to accurately reflect the distinct risk profile of a given shift and type of work.
Automating your fatigue management strategy allows managers to mitigate risks throughout your organisation, across all shifts and all employee groups. Managers are provided instant access to realtime information on employee work hours and rosters, including:
  • complete, current views of rosters and employee fitness for duty
  • triggered alerts if an employee’s fatigue risk changes
  • guided processes for replacing fatigued workers with eligible call-ins
  • detailed reporting on fatigue management policy compliance
In addition, automating time & attendance and rostering processes provides proof of compliance. The audit trail within a time & attendance system captures all activities, while historical records support employers against any litigation/regulatory actions.
With the shift towards self-service technology, it stands to reason that employees themselves should have more say in their work schedules. However, research from Kronos, Live to Work, or Work to Live?, found that only 13% of workers could change their rosters through a work computer, while only 9% could do so through a website, and 7% through a mobile application. More than half (54%) of rostered workers said their rostering system could be improved if they could collaborate online with other workers to change shifts.

Where to next?
Don’t wait until there’s an accident! Business leaders should act now. The gold star for modern fatigue management practices goes to the US nuclear industry – for obvious reasons.
Organisations in that industry have to comply with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Regulation 10 CFR 26, which includes a set of complex rules defining limits for work hours, scheduling, break constraints, periodic employee assessments and other regulations.
To ensure NRC compliance companies assign proper rosters to employees, tracking time against those rosters, issuing compliance notices to employers and supervisors and extensive reporting. In addition, they have available to them:
  • ‘what if?’ scheduling/rostering scenarios
  • staff call-out lists based on qualifications, preferences and NRC requirements
  • equalisation based on qualifications, preferences and NRC requirements
  • shift-swapping availability
  • regular updates on NRC reporting requirements
At a more modest but no less effective level, employers in Australia can kick their fatigue management systems to the next level by:
  • monitoring employee productivity
  • focusing on the roster cycle - an important part of the solution but not the whole solution - provides strong indications of when employees need resting
  • checking on absenteeism
  • implementing an IT-driven fatigue management policy. IT solutions will automate processes, remove complexity and give you greater coverage across the organisation.
Key take-aways
“There are many approaches to setting up a fatigue management policy,” says Kissell, who provides six easy steps that organisations can use to start themselves off on the journey to a full fatigue management policy.
  1. Equip the management team and line managers to implement the FMP
  • Provide them with a complete and current view of rosters, employees and employee profiles
  • Empower those managers to assess and decide on an employee’s fitness-for-duty
  • Set up alerts within your IT system that set off triggers if an employee’s fatigue risk changes
  • Establish processes for replacing fatigued workers with eligible call-ins
  • Ensure your system gives regular, detailed reporting on fatigue management against the fatigue management policy
  1. Within your organisation, review and identify all job groups/families – and isolate those which are identified as fatigue inducing
  2. Institute the policies and programs to minimise the impact of identified fatigue-inducing jobs
  3. Avoid scheduling employees who are either not ‘fit-for-duty’ or who have not completed required rest periods
  4. Use the IT workforce management solution to automate processes and policies
  5. Review at regular and calendarised intervals

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