Prevention of fatigue at work and care of self and your colleagues during the COVID-19 outbreak

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19 November 2020


Fatigue is more than feeling tired and drowsy. In a work context, fatigue is a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion which reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively. It can occur because of prolonged mental or physical activity, sleep loss and/or disruption of the internal body clock.

Factors that can contribute to fatigue are:

  • Working more shifts or longer shifts than usual
  • Increased workloads
  • Not getting adequate breaks, both during leave and work shifts
  • Prolonged use of PPE and the associated problems of rehydration and communication, and the requirement to frequently change PPE.

The symptoms of fatigue can include:

  • Mental – Difficulty concentrating or remembering tasks, lapses in attention, unintentionally doing incorrect actions or failing to do the correct things or failing to communicate important information, depression and stress and anxiety including fear and worry
  • Physical – Yawning, head dropping, eye rubbing, slowed blinking or micro sleeps, digestive problems or loss of appetite, headaches, increased tiredness and giddiness
  • Emotional – Lacking energy or motivation, being quieter or withdrawn or more irritable / bad tempered
  • Burnout and / or Post – Traumatic Stress Disorder

Prevention of fatigue

  • Take scheduled breaks - are vital to worker health and safety. If possible go outside to get some fresh air
  • Hydrate - Dehydration can be a significant problem when wearing PPE. A rule of thumb is to drink 1 ml of fluid for every 1 ml or of body weight lost due to sweating wearing PPE.
  • Eat - A good way to keep up your energy through the day is to eat regular meals and healthy snacks every 3 to 4 hours, rather than a large meal less often.
  • Mild exercises - Even a single 15-minute walk can give you an energy boost, and the benefits increase with more frequent physical activity.
  • Sleep well - taking time to relax before you go to bed
  • Reduce stress – Stress uses up a lot of energy. Try to introduce relaxing activities into your day, such as yoga or tai chi, listening to music or reading
  • Cut out caffeine -The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends that anyone feeling tired should cut out caffeine. It says the best way to do this is to gradually stop having all caffeine drinks over a 3-week period
  • Drink less alcohol - Although a couple of glasses of wine in the evening can help you fall asleep, you sleep less deeply after drinking alcohol. The next day you'll be tired, even if you sleep a full 8 hours.

It is extremely important that you and your colleagues take care of yourselves to prevent any complications from the prolonged use of PPE and fatigue.

We know that proper donning and doffing of PPE is essential for it to be effective and prevent exposure. We know staff who wear PPE for long periods of time report having headaches, suffering dehydration, profusely sweating, suffering skin irritation, and having challenges breathing. There is also a general feeling of exhaustion that comes with being constricted by the equipment and often skipping meals because of the time it takes to redon the PPE.

Mask usage

Wearing a mask will protect you and your patients / residents from the potential spread of coronavirus but masks are not a replacement for physical distancing, hand hygiene and other public health measures. All these strategies should be used together where possible to provide protection.

When in use here are some important points to remember about masks:

  • You should always wash your hands / perform hand hygiene before donning
  • Make sure the mask is properly fitted. E.g. it is covering under your chin and fits snugly over the bridge of your nose and is secured tightly to cover the sides of your face
  • If during use, you accidently touch the front of the mask – you should perform hand hygiene
  • Masks should be changed every 4 hours unless soiled or wet, in these cases they should be changed immediately.
  • Masks should be removed and discarded for any breaks you take including going to the bathroom or if you are leaving the area and they should never be left hanging around your neck.
  • To remove your mask, first perform hand hygiene and then remove carefully using the ear loops or by the ties and repeat hand hygiene after disposal of the mask.
  • You must ensure the masks and all other PPE are discarded according to transmission-based precautions; you must never save the mask for reuse later.
  • Whilst wearing a mask, you must never pull it down to eat or drink, talk on the telephone. Follow the correct process to safely remove the mask and the process to don a new one.

Remember that looking after yourself is just as important as looking after those around you. Try to incorporate some activities to prevent fatigue into your daily routine. Your mental health is just as important so focus on the things that you can control, set a routine and focus on the positives rather than the negatives.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, then please remember there are lots of places to get some help, as part of your employment you might have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Also Nurse and Midwife Support provide a 24/7 national support service for nurses & midwives providing access to confidential advice and referral. You can contact them on 1800 667 877 and their website is available here


Have a specific question about the above information?

Please note the advice provided above is intended as general advice. If you have specific concerns, please contact the Duty Officer to discuss your particular circumstances by email.

Contact Duty Officer