As many of you come into the high pressure period of hay and harvest it is important to review the expected working hours and how workplace fatigue will be managed.
Everyone has a responsibility to ensure fatigue is not a risk in the workplace. To achieve this, both family and non-family employees should be educated about the symptoms of fatigue and the risks.
When people are fatigued they can do automatic and repetitive tasks but their ability to handle new information is impaired. This is why you can drive home fatigued without remembering which towns you passed through. However, if you are in this fatigued state and something new happens, like a kangaroo appearing onto the road, your brain would struggle to process it quickly and the risk of an accident significantly increases.
The Pastoral Award (2010), which covers many farming positions, states an employee’s maximum hours must not exceed 38 hours per week over a four-week period, ie. an employee’s ‘ordinary hours of work’ are capped at 152 hours in a consecutive period of four weeks. Employers can ask their employees to work ‘reasonable additional hours’ (ie. hours in excess of 152 hours in four weeks), but employees can refuse the request if it is unreasonable.
Additional hours are considered as reasonable depending on the employee’s individual circumstances and the needs of the business, including the usual patterns of work in the industry. Additional hours are typically regarded as ‘overtime’. Our 2014 Farm Salary Survey showed Farm Operations Assistants work an average of 41 hours per week over the year, which includes three hours overtime.
Workplace Health and Safety legislation does not prescribe maximum working hours for employees. However, it states an employer has a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that its employees are not exposed to health and safety risks. Employers should have measures to ensure there is management of fatigue in periods where increased hours are to be worked.
Research shows that performance gains are rarely achieved from working longer hours, as most employees can’t work productively for more than 45 hours per week. When designing work schedules or shifts this harvest consider the following factors:
- The majority of adults need between 7-9 hours sleep each night.
- If we have less than 6 hours sleep then we suffer mental and physical ill health, and the risk of injury at work doubles.
- After being awake for 16-17 hours our mental capacity is equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05.
- Factors outside of work can cause an individual to become fatigued, e.g. distance travelled to and from work, having a young family at home or suffering from a sleep disorder.
Being compliant with the legislation does not necessarily mean your business is safe, particularly with fatigue management. Businesses need to establish a safety culture amongst their team which can be supported by a robust safety policy. However, policies and culture need to be implemented by everyone. You won’t achieve a safety culture within your business if you as an employer don’t practice what you preach. Do you work when you are fatigued?
An informal way of undertaking a risk assessment is for employers to ask themselves what is the likelihood of my employees being fatigued? And what am I doing to control the risk?
Encourage your team members to talk honestly about fatigue so that others can help to reduce the risk or the work can be redesigned. For example, if you know someone is fatigued at work then you can help share the workload or give them a less critical/dangerous task to do.
If you are unsure on the level of risk that fatigue poses in your business then simply ask your employees how much sleep they are getting. Consult with them by asking what mistakes they have made when fatigued, and facilitate discussion on how to manage the risks.
Peak periods such as harvest present the challenge of fatigue management. While there is not a one size fits all solution, there are many things you can do to ensure harvest is productive and injury free. Consider how you can minimise the risk of fatigue related accidents during the hay and harvest period by:
- Inducting all team members involved in harvest (from paid staff, contractors, truck drivers to family members helping from time to time moving gear, running meals etc) into the way you will be managing safety and fatigue
- Communicating policy regarding safe operation of machinery and equipment at night, and what your policy is regarding movement of gear at night
- Setting a maximum time for a working day or week, ie. not working greater than 12 hours or having at least one day off in seven
- Implementing effective shift change processes, handing over from one team member to the next by ensuring effective communication, and pre shift inspections/checks
- Planning regular breaks based on the needs of your team, not by the weather forecast
- Ensuring all machinery and equipment is well maintained and safe
- Avoiding potential distractions whilst driving, such as phones and children in cabs
- Being aware that some medicines can make you drowsy, such as hayfever medication
- Implementing a communication system for workers who are working in isolation or remotely, ie. ask workers to report in when they enter and leave a paddock if they are by themselves
- Mixing up the tasks within your team to avoid repetitious or monotonous work, or work that requires a high level of concentration for long periods of time
Be clear on your expectations.
- Guide for Managing the Risk of Fatigue at Work, available on the Safe Work Australia website
- Modern Pastoral Award (2010)