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£450,000 fine for fatigued workers

One thing that is consistent throughout the work place today is the risks of stress, tiredness and in some cases the fatigue of employees.

Where deadlines, important contracts and absenteeism levels are just a few pressures within all organisations. The employer must be alert to the risks that these pressures present on employees, with fatigue being a common issue that is rarely formally identified and therefore in turn rarely acted upon, but perhaps unofficially well known within an organisation.

The most important point, as with most of our health and safety articles, is to complete an assessment of the risks for any changes to working arrangements and specifically to individuals. Such an assessment has to consider the risks posed by the shift work, the time off allowed, the nature of the works, location and rest periods to name a few areas to consider.

Don’t assume every employee is the same. An 18 year old may struggle on a night shift whilst a 60 year old may not. An employee’s goodwill or fear for their job if they refuse a particular working arrangement will not protect an organisation in the event of an incident or inspection.

A recent case concerning a fatigued employee has concluded in a contractor, Renown Consultants Ltd, being found guilty of health and safety offences, in a prosecution brought by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). This prosecution followed a tragic accident in which 2 individuals died in 2013 following the driver falling asleep at the wheel after driving back from a night shift. The individuals were employees of the contractor and it was found that no risk assessment was carried out in relation to fatigue of the individuals in addition to not following its own fatigue management policy. As a result the employer in question was fined £450,000 plus prosecution costs.

Fatigue can often be happily ignored where an individual is willing to put in extra hours to assist the business, but as an employer, there is a duty to ensure the safety of employees under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Therefore, even where the individual is willing to work, this would not provide a defence in the event of a prosecution against a company in which an accident occurred and it was known to the company that the individual was essentially overworked.

To summarise, the key points are:

  • Communication with individuals is key and ensuring open communication and with trade unions if you have employees who are members;
  • Complete a risk assessment regarding the risks. Anticipate not just the normal working practices, but deal with fatigue in particular. How will you put measures in place to reduce or remove the risk? Fatigue is entirely foreseeable at work, so there is an expectation you will have considered and addressed it;
  • Implement a policy that sets out the company requirements as to working hours, overtime requests, on call duties, and shift swapping where applicable, using public transport.

As with most risks to the work place, ensure the systems are monitored, reviewed and updated to assess employee fatigue. If you would like to discuss this with any of the regulatory team then please do not hesitate to get in touch with Sarah: