How to Conduct Fatigue-Focused Incident Investigations & Enhance the Safety of Your Workplace


Investigating safety incidents is a crucial component of maintaining a safe work environment. One of the more commonly underreported contributing causes of workplace errors and safety incidents is human fatigue. Fatigue can cause workers to be prone to various types of errors and safety incidents no matter its source (e.g., sleep loss due to work schedule or personal choices, physical or mental exertion on or off the job, etc.) by altering a person’s cognitive and physical abilities. Some of the reasons that fatigue is underreported include:

  • Reliance on self-reported fatigue (e.g., fear of income loss or other repercussions);
  • Fatigue is difficult to quantify and measure;
  • Lack of awareness or knowledge of the signs and symptoms of fatigue; and
  • The adrenaline rush after a safety incident can mask fatigue during an interview.

Having an underdeveloped fatigue investigation process that does not comprehensively consider fatigue involvement can be costly. Fatigue-related incidents generally result in more serious injuries and have higher associated costs. 
Uncovering the possible causes of an individual’s fatigue, such as long work hours, irregular shift patterns, inadequate rest breaks, and lifestyle choices allows an organization to take steps to mitigate future risks. In addition, investigating fatigue-related incidents demonstrates an organizational commitment to safety and compliance and potentially reduces legal and financial liabilities.

What are some best practices for identifying fatigue during a safety incident investigation?

  1. Evaluate the Circumstances of the Incident: Evaluating the environment of an incident eliminates alternative and identifies contributing causes of the incident. Depending on the type of incident, this can include road geography, weather and lighting conditions, and obstructions such as sightlines, loud noises, etc. This evaluation helps 
  2. Interviews of Involved Parties: When interviewing the involved parties, asking questions about work schedules and job tasks determines if one or the other, or a combination contributed to fatigue risk. Without assigning blame, it is equally important to ask about sleep routines, extracurricular activities, medical conditions, and the use of medicines or other substances that can contribute to the person’s fatigue level on the day of the incident.
  3. Interviews of Witnesses: Witnesses can offer information about the incident, observations of signs of fatigue (e.g., yawning, zoning out, etc.), and past conversations that may indicate the involved person was experiencing fatigue.
  4. Review of Schedules and Job Tasks: Evaluating work patterns and task assignments helps determine the root cause of the fatigue risk, if any, and later informs recommendations for corrective action.
  5. Review of Policies and Procedures: Determining if exceptions to policies and procedures were allowed (e.g., work hour limitations, rest minimums, etc.)  to cover the workload or absences helps to identify staffing or scheduling opportunities. 
  6. Recommendations and Corrective Actions: After identifying fatigue-related contributing factors, recommending corresponding corrective actions helps identify opportunities to reduce future risk. These actions may include revising work schedules, implementing fatigue management training, and adjusting organizational policies.
  7. Documentation and Reporting: Documenting and reporting the investigation’s findings and actions helps to track progress and corrective actions.

Identifying fatigue-related root causes allows organizations to take steps to reduce incident fatigue risk and promote a safer and healthier work environment. Depending on the investigation’s findings, solutions such as conducting a work hours assessment, designing a biocompatible schedule, offering education and training on healthy lifestyle choices, and developing a comprehensive Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) can reduce the number and severity of future safety incidents.

Are you interested in learning the ins and outs of a fatigue-focused investigation? CIRCADIAN is uniquely qualified to conduct a scientific evaluation of one of your incidents and walk you through the steps. Contact our incident evaluation team to discuss how we can help!

CIRCADIAN is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock. Our core technologies and deep consulting experience include comprehensive assessments of work hours and shift patterns, designing biocompatible schedules, presenting (or training your trainers to present) workshops on healthy lifestyle choices for shift workers, and developing Fatigue Risk Management Systems. Contact us today to find out more!

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