Focus on Fatigue

How workplace culture impacts fatigue management

By November 13, 2020 No Comments

Issue #66 – November 2020

Welcome to Focus on Fatigue,

We are fast approaching the end of the year, and this is the final edition of Focus on Fatigue for 2020. What a year it has been! Individuals and industries worldwide have seen major change – much of which has been hard, but we have also heard many identify elements of positive change that have occurred alongside the challenges.

As you journey towards the end of 2020, may you also be able to identify positive elements of change that have occurred for you this year.

In this edition of Focus on Fatigue, we are going to look at how workplace culture impacts fatigue management and how cultural change is often needed for effective fatigue management within an organisation.

The FRMS Team



InterDynamics Pty Ltd
320 Adelaide Street Brisbane Qld 4000
Tel +61 7 3229 8300

Views expressed in articles and links provided are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of InterDynamics (except where directly attributed).


“The way we do things around here”:
How workplace culture impacts fatigue management

Implementing an effective Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) is more than just a policy or IT project. It is a cultural change project.

Workplace culture has a significant impact on the way fatigue issues will be handled by employees within an organisation. Organisational culture is often defined as “the way we do things around here” and is formed by a combination of beliefs, values and assumptions; all of which influence how people interact and behave.

When theory and practice don’t align

Organisational culture is sometimes the elusive element to successful fatigue risk management. In many cases, explicit elements of organisational culture (such as policy and procedures) are at odds with implicit elements of organisational culture. Let’s look at a few examples.

A sense of camaraderie and genuine desire not to let colleagues down

In one study of metropolitan train drivers, “drivers expressed concern that leaving mid-shift would be letting their colleagues down and calling into question their ability to operate trains in the future. At the same time, drivers understood that this sentiment was also at odds with the directive of FRMS that required drivers to call in to be relieved when they were too fatigued to continue driving.”¹

This “research identified that drivers would often compromise their own rest opportunities and right to ask for relief because of a strong sense of camaraderie with their peers. Therefore, the cultural particularities of the workplace impacted upon the extent that FRMS could be fully adopted.”¹

Similarly, in another study of hospital nurses, a sense responsibility to their patients and obligation to their unit or team was identified as a barrier to their fatigue management.²

This culture of ‘having each other’s backs’ can simultaneously support and impede fatigue management.

A culture that encourages invulnerability

In some industries, such as healthcare and emergency services, there can be an unwritten expectation to ‘power through’ and portray an image of strength. In some cases, enduring fatigue can even be seen as a badge of honour.

The above mentioned study of hospital nurses, identified a ‘supernurse’ culture as a barrier to effectively managing fatigue and achieving a safety culture. Nurses in the study described “the importance of an appearance of strength. They also commented on a resistance in themselves or amongst their peers in asking for help”. Even when help was being directly offered, it was reported nurses were resistant to accepting it.²

A fear culture around reporting fatigue

A perception of potential negative consequences for reporting fatigue will impede effective fatigue management. In some situations, an employee may feel it will jeopardise future work opportunities or that addressing fatigue is discouraged at a supervisor or management level.

In order to effectively address fatigue, employees need to be able to manage fatigue and provide feedback without fear of repercussion.

A lack of genuine, accessible options

While fatigue management policies may be in place, the associated procedures may miss the mark on being genuinely accessible. For example, if you are expected to take a rest or nap break in your shift, but there is a lack of appropriate space for such a nap or inadequate staff to cover during the break. This is going to promote a culture of pushing through and foster the belief that management are not genuinely invested in fatigue management.

Use of informal strategies

In situations where formal fatigue management strategies may be insufficient or ineffective, informal strategies often emerge to manage fatigue.

One study of volunteer fire-fighters found that fatigue proofing behaviours existed, but they were not openly understood as such. “The study identified informal fatigue management behaviours at the individual, team and brigade level that have evolved in fire-fighting environments and are regularly implemented.” The study provided two recommendations: “(1) to identify and formalise current informal fatigue coping strategies as legitimate elements of the fatigue risk management system; and (2) develop culturally appropriate techniques for systematically communicating fatigue levels to self and others.” ³

Effective FRMS

Genuine concern from the top down

For the issue of managing fatigue risk to be taken seriously within an organisation, it requires a genuine concern to be evident from the top down. Modelled behaviour, systems and structures will all be looked to by staff to determine whether the issue is truly a priority in an organisation. Employees can tell if the issue of fatigue is approached as one of meeting minimum requirements, with little real concern for the issue; or whether the well-being and safety of staff, and ensuing economic benefits of an efficient and effective workforce are truly valued. How the issue is approached and FRMS are implemented will impact and shape company culture around fatigue.

Staff involvement

The above examples highlight the fact that staff engagement and consultation is key to a smooth FRMS implementation, as cultural change at all levels is often required for the organisation to transition its perceptions and management of fatigue in line with the organisation’s fatigue policy commitment.


These examples also highlight the importance of the ongoing review stage of an effective FRMS; to ensure that protection measures implemented are appropriate and effective.


  1. Rainbird, S., Thompson, K. & Dawson, D. (2010). The impact of organisational culture on fatigue management: The case of camaraderie amongst metropolitan train drivers. In: Sargent, C., Darewent, D. & Roach, GD (Eds). Living in a 24/7 world: The impact of circadian disruption on sleep, work and health, Australasian Chronobiology Society, Adelaide, Australia, pp. 29-33
  2. Steege, L. & Rainbow, J. (2017). Fatigue in hospital nurses – ‘Supernurse’ culture is a barrier to addressing problems: A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Nursing Studies, Vol 67, pg 20-28,
  3. Dawson, D., Mayger, K., Thomas, M. & Thompson, K. (2015). Fatigue risk management by volunteer fire-fighters: Use of informal strategies to augment formal policy, Accident Analysis & Prevention, Vol 84, pg 92-98,
  4. Gander, P., Hartley, L., Powell, D., Cabon, P., Hitchcock, E., Mills, A. & Popkin, S. (2011) Fatigue risk management: Organizational factors at the regulatory and industry/company level, Accident Analysis & Prevention, Vol 43 (2), pg 573-590,


InterDynamics News

InterDynamics have continued to successfully deliver FAID Quantum training and FRMS consulting via Internet video conferencing this year. If you have been considering FAID Quantum training or have any other FRMS related queries, we are happy to assist.


In the News

Provided below are a selection of articles from around the web on the issues associated with fatigue. We hope you find them useful and interesting.

Fatigue in air ambulance accident: What we can learn

Integrated Safety Support, August 2020
This week at ISS we’ve been talking about a positive development in the area of fatigue management – and that is a shift in culture towards trust and honesty.

Caledonian Sleeper told by own experts to ‘change culture’ over fatigue as next strike looms

Alastair Dalton, The Scotsman, October 2020
A “change in culture” over staff fatigue is needed at Caledonian Sleeper, according to experts drafted in to investigate the problem which has triggered a series of strikes.

Safety audit says ‘toxic workplace culture’ at Metro rail control center puts riders at risk

Will Vitka, WTOP News, September 2020
“Metrorail has not followed its own fatigue management policies that require at least one day off per week, has not addressed recurring safety issues, and has not implemented adequate recruitment, hiring and training practices,” the report states.

“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”: The sleep-deprived masculinity stereotype

University of Chicago Press Journals, Science Daily, September 2020
Men report getting significantly less sleep, on average, than women. A cultural complication is the notion that getting less than the recommended amount of sleep signals something positive about an individual.

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