Recognizing the symptoms of Fatigue in yourself and in those around you as a safety measure: Fatigue Proofing

Academic studies have shown people are capable of recognizing fatigue in themselves and in those around them. Especially in a work setting some people have even developed their own informal fatigue proofing strategies to help keep themselves and their co-workers safe.

Fatigue proofing is a method in which we are preventing fatigue such as drowsiness and sleepiness from causing a risk in our day to day business. A bit like using a waterproof rain coat to prevent your clothes from getting wet in the rain. Fatigue proofing strategies are primarily used by companies which are actively focussing on fatigue as a risk to their business and employees. They do this by implementing fatigue detection/prediction technologies and or implementing certain shift patterns. However, as the studies have shown, it is also something we tend to do ourselves just by looking out for each other. 

In a work setting, fatigue proofing among co-workers has been found to follow 2 themes, the first is when we pre-signal or tell colleagues about our elevated risk of fatigue, along the lines of “I didn’t sleep very well/a lot” or perhaps even “I’m feeling rather drowsy”. The second theme is if your job has little room for error which could cause a dangerous situation, colleagues critically look out for each other too based on errors. Both of these themes often lead to informal risk reduction action. An example would be a fatigued pilot coming in to land will alert the co-pilot and begin the decent earlier than planned, to allow increased reaction time by both pilots in case of possible fatigue related errors. Another academic study following power line workers shows that they engage more frequently in jokes and teasing in the early hours of the morning, which allows co-workers to detect any increased irritability in a worker, which is a sign of fatigue, leading in turn to informal intra group swap around to a less dangerous task.

Informal fatigue proofing strategies can really benefit a company’s risk management when they engage in it and support what is happening among colleagues. For example in the mining industry we’ve seen that in the early morning hours, during nightshift, drivers will talk to each other over the VHF radio as to help keep each other awake.  However, it is also something that we can easily implement in our daily life keeping ourselves, our family, friends and colleagues safe from accidents. Fatigue is the root cause of so many accidents around us and there are ways you can easily beat fatigue from causing an accident around you too. The thing to remember is even though we may not feel sleepy or feel it has an effect on us personally, it may just as well have an effect on the person driving in front of you.

In Australia the road signs preventing drowsy driving can be quite graphic which is a method of raising public awareness on the consequences of drowsy driving. Below is an example of such a method displayed in Queensland, Australia.


When we’re looking at a sign like this, most of us are thinking along the lines of “this won’t happen to me” or maybe even “scary someone fell asleep behind the wheel”, but we’re rarely thinking it could be me or someone I know close to me. So, in order for us to make sure we are not causing the accident related to fatigue, or allowing someone we know to perform dangerous work, or even hopping into a car for a (short) trip, here are some key symptoms to look out for in each other and yourself. This will allow you to adopt the informal fatigue proofing strategies which power line workers, pilots etc. have perfected.

Look out for a combination of the following signs:

  • Yawning
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Irritated reaction which seem out of place or unusual to the normal expected reaction
  • Simple mistakes which seem out of place
  • Distracted / mind wandering
  • Vocabulary mistakes which are unusual in the current setting
  • Blurry vision (if it’s concerning yourself or if it has been said by the person you’re looking out for)
  • Being more quiet than usual

Now, these signs of course may reflect to other causes too. However we are capable of recognizing fatigue within ourselves and the people close to us, so chances are you will recognize if these symptoms are related to sleepiness or something else which may be going on in someone’s life. So perfect the method to your best capacity and that’s how you can bring accidents related to drowsiness down just by fatigue proofing the situation yourself!


 Written by: Emma Verhardt


Sleep Medicine Reviews 16, 2012, pages 167-175. “Fatigue-proofing: A new approach to reducing fatigue-related risk using the principles of error management”. Drew Dawson, Janine Chapman, Matthew Thomas

Accident Analysis and Prevention 62, 2014, pages 1-8. “Specific sleepiness symptoms are indicators of performance impairment
during sleep deprivation”. Mark Howard, Melinda Jackson, David Berlowitz, Fergal O’Donoghue, Philip Swann, Justine Westlake, Vanessa Wilkinson, Rob Pierce.

Internal and Emergency Medicine 13, 2018, pages 1273-1281. “Fatigue-related risk management in the emergency department: a focus-group study”. Pierre Berastegui, Mathieu Jasper, Alexandre Ghuysen, Anne-Sophie Nyssen.


Copyright 2023 © All Right Reserved