Staying safe on the tracks and managing fatigue at work | Safety Matters

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by Jessica Tabinor on


  • The health, wellbeing and safety of our workforce is paramount. We continue to expand and strengthen our strategies and initiatives to ensure they reflect current and future needs and demands, whilst working to minimise and eliminate risk across our operations. 

  • Read on to find out more about fatigue, including how to spot the signs and symptoms and where to go for help.

The health, wellbeing and safety of our workforce is paramount. We continue to expand and strengthen our strategies and initiatives to ensure they reflect current and future needs and demands, whilst working to minimise and eliminate risk across our operations. 

As a business, we’re always looking to build on our management systems, whilst also examining practices from organisations outside of our industry. Together with key data and insights from leaders within the rail sector, this enables us to constantly improve our processes, awareness and associated risk control measures. 

Managing fatigue is everyone’s responsibility. 

The safety-critical domain of the rail industry makes fatigue a high-risk factor. There’s no single definition of fatigue, however, it’s considered as a feeling of extreme tiredness that means you are unable to perform effectively. 

Someone who is fatigued will be less mentally alert, less able to process information, take longer to make decisions and react, and will have less interest in the task at hand. This same fatigued individual will be unable to adequately perceive risk and may be more tolerant to certain risks that they would usually find unacceptable. 

Unlike alcohol and drugs, there is no specific test to determine fatigue levels and many people are completely unaware of how this is impacting their performance, which makes it a great concern during safety-critical work. 

As a business, on certain contracts, we manage all operations-related factors that could potentially create fatigue in our workforce. We aim to ensure that everyone understands fatigue and is provided with the correct tools, resources and education to effectively manage their individual fatigue risk and recognise its importance. 

The continual integration and investment in new technology across our health and safety practices now include a robust fatigue risk management process that takes in account work orders, training records, turns of duty, rest periods, working time limits and door to door travel times, to deliver work assignments that effectively manage fatigue risk. We are also one of the only contingent labour specialists within our industry to have a fully integrated solution that links directly with the HSE’s own health and safety fatigue calculator. 

You have a personal responsibility to manage your fatigue levels. 

It is the responsibility of our entire workforce, not just our Operatives that are performing safety-critical work, to effectively detect and manage any individual and environmental factors that can contribute to and cause fatigue, such as:

  • Lifestyle
  • Age
  • Diet
  • Caffeine intake
  • Medical conditions
  • Duration and quality of sleep
  • Adequacy of the sleeping environment
  • Family circumstances
  • Domestic responsibilities
  • Out of work commitments
  • Daytime pressures 

In addition to carrying out physical health checks with our workforce on-site, our growing fleet of health and safety vehicles - which travel the length and breadth of the UK rail infrastructure to share face to face health and safety best practice - will be educating our workforce on how to recognise fatigue in themselves and others. Some basic signs of fatigue levels include: 

  • Early signs of fatigue: Fidgeting or eye rubbing
  • Signs of moderate fatigue: Frequent yawning, staring blankly or frequent blinking
  • Signs of severe fatigue: Nodding head, difficulty keeping eyes open and focussed, or long blinks

Severe fatigue can have disastrous consequences. Being awake for around 17 hours, for example, can impair decision making and impact reaction times equivalent to being over the legal drink driving limit.

One major cause of fatigue is that people simply do not get the required sleep they need to stay alert, due to poor sleeping routines. Simple steps, such as going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, avoiding naps and taking time to relax before you go to sleep, are just some effective ways to improve your sleep habits and how much you have each day.

Most of us need around eight hours of sleep every day to function correctly. If you’re waking up tired and remaining this way throughout the day, then this is a clear sign that you’re not having enough sleep. An occasional night without adequate sleep won’t harm your health, yet several consecutive nights will create brain fog. Those with a continued lack of sleep are also prone to serious medical health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. However, the psychological causes of tiredness are much more common than the physical causes and can include stress, depression and anxiety.

Everyone is different and many varying factors affect fatigue levels. Do not put the health, wellbeing and safety of you or others at risk. If in doubt about your alertness and fatigue levels, inform your Line Manager or Local Site Manager immediately. 

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