What is fatigue?
Fatigue is the cause of many accidents. A number of things can lead to fatigue, including long or irregular work hours, sleep disruption, extreme environmental conditions, physical and mental work demands, and stress.
Symptoms can vary, but common signs include excessive tiredness, reduced reaction times, emotional instability, forgetfulness, poor communication, mood swings, and an inability to concentrate on tasks.
The answer to fatigue that builds up over a few nights is easy – sleep. There is no other answer.
Are you suffering from fatigue?
- more irritable than usual
- won’t communicate
- easily frustrated by tasks
- doesn’t care
- looks tired
- yawns a lot
- has micro sleeps
- behaves “automatically”
- slurs speech
- rubs eyes
- not paying attention
- takes unusual risks
- cuts corners to get the job done
- shows poor judgement of distance, time or speed
- is clumsy
- does things in the wrong order
- doesn’t complete tasks
- forgets recent information
- moves slowly
- makes calculation mistakes.
What HSWA says about fatigue
Fatigue is a risk that must be managed. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, all crew must take reasonable care to ensure that nothing they do on board harms themselves or any other person. Both operators and skippers must make sure the vessel is safe and involve the entire crew in managing any risks. Now is the time for you to raise any safety concerns that you have with your skipper or operator.
Tips for managing fatigue
Napping helps manage fatigue when you are short of sleep. Best napping times are mid-afternoon and after 9.00 pm. About every 90 minutes during sleep, you cycle through lighter sleep, deeper sleep and dreaming. Waking from deep sleep leaves you groggy (sleep inertia). To minimise sleep inertia allow yourself either 30-40 minutes for a nap, or about 2 hours, or about 3.5 hours. A cell phone or alarm clock can be used to time the nap.
Create a good sleep environment
The sleeping environment (at work and at home) has a large effect on the quality of your sleep. Poor-quality sleep does not restore you as well, so putting effort into the sleeping environment is worthwhile.
- Block out as much light as possible.
- Noise cancelling air muffs can help.
- Use a sleep mask and ear plugs if necessary.
- Keep the temperature of your sleep area cool rather than hot.
- At home turn off alarms, phones and doorbells if trying to sleep during the day.
Report any accident
A master or skipper must report any accident, incident or serious harm injury under section 31 of the Maritime Transport Act 1994. This applies to all New Zealand vessels. You must report an accident “as soon as practicable”. This means as soon as you are able to do so after you have secured the safety of people, your boat and the environment, and when you have communication available.
Sometimes people are concerned that reporting an accident or incident to MNZ will result in prosecution. In exceptional circumstances, MNZ may use the information provided to support an investigation, however this is very rarely the case.
This information is general guidance only. If you have questions about your responsibilities under HSWA, we suggest talking to your local maritime officer; but for specific advice about your legal duties or setting up your business, we recommend talking to a lawyer.