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A national standard is needed for workplace fatigue

April 20, 2020  By Mary Cianchetti and Pierre Poirier

I just feel tired.

They’re words that ring true to so many of us. In fact, most of us have probably uttered them at some point in the last week or month — and chances are we associate that drained, burnt-out feeling with our work.

In 2019, for the first time, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized “burn-out” as a syndrome that can be medically diagnosed – an “occupational phenomenon” affecting the health of workers around the world.

According to WHO, there are three different “dimensions” of burn-out — feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.


Sound familiar?

With unprecedented levels of workplace fatigue being attributed to modern day work, CSA Group felt strongly that it was worth exploring the specific landscape in Canada and whether a national standard could help address the issue and improve workplaces across the country.

The results of that research were released in November 2019 in a report titled Workplace Fatigue: Current Landscape and Future Considerations. What we found was that professional burnout is affecting a wide range of jobs, workplaces and industries in our country, and there is no standard definition or management practice in place to address this issue. Moreover, without a standard definition of what workplace fatigue means in Canada, it’s difficult to even say how pervasive the problem is and impossible to solve it.

The research identified that there is certainly an opportunity for national standards that address workplace fatigue to make a real and positive difference to workers in this country. It’s an important first step.

But we also know that in some workplaces, the potential consequences of fatigue can be a matter of life and death. First responders, including workers in law enforcement and paramedic services, confront situations on a daily basis that most of us could never imagine. First responders also face unique health and safety issues such as shift work and extended work days, as well as periods of intense psychological stress or trauma.
That’s why the Paramedic Association of Canada is currently working with CSA Group to develop a national standard on fatigue risk management for first responders, in parallel with this new research.

The diagnosis of mental disorders among public safety personnel is four times higher than the general population. We know that the impact of fatigue on first responders can also affect neurocognitive performance, which in turn can endanger not only their own personal health and safety, but also the health and safety of their fellow responders and the public they serve. The stakes are high and the need is evident.

As we continue this work, we will seek to define what workplace fatigue means in the complex environment where first responders do their job. And, we will identify what best practices employers should be following to protect employees and reduce exposure to fatigue-related hazards.
In 2018, CSA Group introduced a psychological health and safety standard to address the specific needs of paramedic service organizations. A standard for workplace fatigue risk management for first responders will build on that work.

It’s clear a gap does exist in Canada when it comes to how fatigue is being addressed in the workplace. The creation of a national standard for workplace fatigue could address needs not being met by existing legislation to protect the health and livelihood of all Canadian workers, regardless of where they work.

Mary Cianchetti is the president of standards at CSA Group and Pierre Poirier is the executive director of the Paramedic Association of Canada.

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