Managing Fatigue on Farms

Farming, Harvest, Seasonal Work, Managing Employees

Managing fatigue on farms during seeding and harvest can be particularly difficult because there is a lot of work to do in a short amount of time and the regulations are not specific except for heavy vehicle commercial drivers (truck drivers). For all other types of staff the legislation requires farms to:

  1. Identify fatigue as a hazard if it is one – Which it is, particularly during seeding and harvest,
  2. Assess the risk,
  3. Eliminate or minimise the risk as far as is reasonably practicable, and
  4. Evaluate the control measures used to eliminate or minimise the risk to ensure they are working.

Fatigue impairs reaction times, concentration, and the ability to think clearly and control our moods. After 17 hours of wakefulness, most people’s fatigue impairment will be equivalent to a 0.05 blood alcohol concentration. Working with heavy machinery such as harvesters when fatigued is clearly not a good idea.

Identify the hazard

Farms should ensure that fatigue has been identified as a hazard on their risk register. Page 13 of Safe Work Australia’s Guide for Managing the Risk of Fatigue at Work is a fatigue checklist which can help farms identify their fatigue hazards.

Assess the risk

Next, farms should assess the risk of fatigue on their farm and record this in their risk register. Page 16 of Safe Work Australia’s Guide for Managing the Risk of Fatigue at Work is a risk management chart which can help farms assess their fatigue risk.

Eliminate or Minimise the Risk

Page 14 & 16 of Safe Work Australia’s Guide for Managing the Risk of Fatigue at Work are guidelines for shift design and a risk management chart (which also includes risk control recommendations). We understand that flexibility is important when managing fatigue as all personnel respond differently to fatigue. However, our recommendation regarding work and rest times are as follows:

  1. Maximum shift length: 12 hours
  2. Maximum consecutive shifts before a rostered day off: 13 days
  3. Minimum rest between shifts: 7 hours

Other measures farms can take to monitor and manage fatigue are as follows:

  • Monitor work activities and allow adequate and sufficient breaks to recover from fatigue,
  • Avoid personnel driving for periods in excess of 12 hours, ensure rest breaks occur at least every 3 to 4 hours, and organise adequate accommodation,
  • Keep call outs to a minimum, however if they occur, allow an appropriate rest break,
  • Look for signs of fatigue in personnel such as increased error, yawning, lack of concentration etc.,
  • Allow more flexibility in rosters such as longer breaks and extra days off, and
  • Alternate high workload tasks between personnel.


Lastly, farms should evaluate the control measures to ensure they are working. This can be done using one of or a combination of the following:

  • Completing the annual checklist,
  • Completing the annual risk register review,
  • Consulting with personnel regarding fatigue management, and
  • Re-assessing the risk of fatigue.

For more information about Farm Safety contact ProcessWorx on (08) 9316 9896 or 

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