Construction work is often strenuous, involves working long hours and working in difficult conditions – heat, rain, cold, dust and noise. Yet we expect our crews to deliver maximum productivity day after day, working tirelessly to meet the construction schedules we’ve committed to. Sometimes we forget that it’s people out in the field – not machines. But we rely on these people to produce quality work safely. As managers, our jobs literally depend on our team delivering our projects on time.
But our crews do suffer from fatigue which:
- Reduces productivity.
- It can cause accidents and safety incidents.
- May lead to critical mistakes leading to quality issues.
- Could result in health problems.
- It can lead to problems at home which can negatively impact morale and impact productivity.
In addition, workers may consume caffeine-laced drinks, or even take drugs so they can stay awake or remain at peak performance. These could cause lapses in judgment, resulting in accidents, or perhaps even lead to long term health issues.
What causes fatigue?
Fatigue can be due to a number of reasons:
- Personnel working long shifts or working on designated rest days due to:
- The project working longer hours and extended shifts to make up lost time.
- Personnel electing to work additional hours to earn more money.
- People working extended hours so they can take time off at a later date, perhaps for an extended weekend.
- Insufficient workers on the project, resulting in a high workload.
- Equipment breakdowns meaning work is delayed and cannot be completed within the normal shift.
- Poor planning resulting in materials which have to be off-loaded being delivered after-hours, or tasks such as placing concrete starting late in the day and continuing past the shift end.
- Personnel taking insufficient rest breaks in the course of their shift, due to:
- Operational reasons (for instance workers may not be able to stop doing a task, like placing concrete, until it’s completed)
- Personnel electing to forego their designated rest breaks, so they can complete their shift earlier.
- Working in hot and humid conditions.
- Performing repetitive and boring tasks over an extended period.
- Doing a physically hard task.
- Working night shifts which disrupt worker’s body clocks and sleep patterns (they may also be unable to sleep properly during the day due to high temperatures, or noise around their accommodation).
- Personnel having excessively long, daily commute times (sometimes workers travel over an hour to and from the project each day, making their working day even longer than it should be).
- Workers have a lengthy commute returning to the project after the weekend (they may spend several hours traveling from home, often leaving early, or in some cases traveling through the night).
- Personal problems and worries resulting in an individual not sleeping at night.
- Illness, which causes fatigue, and may also disrupt sleep.
- Partying late at night.
How can we reduce fatigue?
To reduce fatigue, the project should:
- Resist the temptation to work longer project hours or additional shifts.
- Schedule the project so that it can be completed in a reasonable time taking account of the available resources and the expected weather conditions.
- Resource the project correctly with sufficient workers and equipment.
- Not allow personnel to work extended, or additional shifts out of choice.
- Provide more frequent rest breaks during hot and humid conditions – providing sheltered cool rest areas.
- Personnel performing physically demanding, or repetitious, tasks should be rotated to other tasks, work shorter shifts, or take frequent rest breaks.
- Arrange accommodation as close as possible to the project, and where there is no alternative to a lengthy commute, consider working shorter shifts. Employ workers who live locally, close to the project.
- After a rest day, the project could work a shorter shift to take into account long commute times from home if these are a factor.
- Management and supervisors must be aware of changes in personal behavior, or illness, which may affect a person’s ability to work. Let’s put people first.
- Provide the right tools and equipment to minimize heavy work.
- Look at alternative materials or construction methods that could reduce manual lifting or repetitive tasks.
Are you suffering from fatigue?
What about your own work habits? Are you also in the habit of staying late at work? Maybe you’re also suffering from fatigue which could be negatively impacting your work performance – even negatively influencing your judgment and decisions? Learn to delegate better. Organize your life better so you have fewer interruptions in the day and are able to get more done.
Surprise your family and get home early today. Plan a weekend away – maybe even a holiday. You’ll be surprised how productive you can be after a break.
Working lengthy shifts is often a false economy. Not only are we paying workers overtime rates but productivity decreases exponentially after they exceed normal shift times. Sometimes working an extended shift is unavoidable – but then it needs to be limited to only the individuals who are necessary and shouldn’t be allowed to become the norm on the project.
A project that’s working extended shifts every day and working seven days a week normally indicates a project with a problem – often a project that hasn’t been planned properly.
But don’t just consider the fatigue of your workers; consider also how fatigue is impacting your work, your life, and your family.