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Appropriate PPE: Helping mitigate the effects of fatigue

28 June 2017

Use of the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace can go a considerable way towards reducing the risk of fatigue and controlling its consequences, as uvex explains

Physical and mental fatigue costs the UK between £115 and £240 million per year in terms of work accidents. Fatigue is very common and can occur in all types of working environments, from manufacturing and engineering to maintenance and materials handling. The long-term effects can be serious and debilitating to both the individual and the organisation, with overtired workers being the direct or indirect cause of accidents, injury and even death.

Cause and effect

Fatigue can be defined as extreme tiredness, resulting from mental, emotional or physical exertion, rendering the person temporarily unable to respond to a situation in an appropriate manner. It is difficult to measure accurately, but that should not prevent efforts being made to tackle the problem. 

In the workplace, fatigue may be caused by many factors, including heat or cold stress, excessive vibration, over-exertion, noise, musculoskeletal problems, long or night shifts, or uncomfortable working conditions. Individuals working in safety-critical jobs are particularly vulnerable. 

Mentally, excessive tiredness results in slower reactions, reduced ability to think clearly and to make good decisions, forgetfulness, poor communication, stress, anxiety, irritability, depression and hormonal disturbances.

Lost production, increased absenteeism, job dissatisfaction, muscle fatigue, back and neck pain, sleeping disturbances and deprivation are other effects of fatigue. Long-term consequences can include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders and lower fertility.

Promoting wellbeing

Wearing appropriate PPE can keep the wearer comfortable, alert and productive, improving their health and promoting their wellbeing.  

•  Safety footwear plays a key role. Lightweight, comfortable, breathable, well-fitting and supportive footwear, without pressure points, spreads body weight evenly and reduces back pain and stress and therefore tiredness. Avoiding swollen or painful feet is especially important in jobs where workers are on their feet all day, such as on assembly lines, or pickers and packers. Technological materials such as uvex climazone keep feet at the optimum temperature of 31-32°C, while pivot points minimise strain on joints during repetitive twisting motions.

•  Safety eyewear is equally important. Fatigue can be lessened through good quality, panoramic eyewear that does not limit the field of vision. Adjustability and soft components that mould to the wearer’s face help too, while prescription inserts make life easier for those who need glasses. High-tech, permanent, lens coatings improve vision, reduce eyestrain, and enable employees to work for longer periods without loss of concentration.

•  Respiratory protection can help to reduce heat stress through anatomically-shaped face masks with central exhalation valves that ease breathing. The use of thinner membranes in respiratory devices eases air transfer, while good quality materials remove the risk of collapse when inhaling strongly. PPE that perfectly integrates with masks, such as eyewear, is also beneficial, boosting efficiency and comfort.

•  Debilitating stress from noise can be reduced by using comfortable, perfectly-fitting ear plugs or earmuffs. An oval plug shape, for example, matches the ear canal, reducing pressure and indentation.

•  The right safety glove can decrease fatigue through efficiency, a perfect fit, and ensuring grip and dexterity without effort. The glove should be durable, breathable and supple. Gloves in a range of sizes, closely fitting both men and women, allow maximum all-day comfort, dexterity and avoidance of hand fatigue.    

Fatigue in the workplace can kill, but there is a lot that can be done to mitigate this via the provision of the correct protective equipment for hands, feet, eyes, ears, lungs and body.