Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Work Safety

What are your Symptoms?

Are you experiencing episodes of unexplained fatigue, cognitive and short-term memory issues, headaches, muscle and joint pain, unrefreshed sleep or general muscle weakness? If any of these symptoms sound familiar, you could be exhibiting symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) (Johnson et al 2016).

Or, you could also be suffering from Fibromyalgia, a name given to a group of symptoms specifically characterised by generalised pain and muscle stiffness throughout the body. Common symptoms of Fibromyalgia can also include aching pain, stiffness and tiredness of muscles, extreme fatigue, poor sleep, concentration and memory problems and irritable bowel symptoms (diarrhoea and stomach pain).

Confused? Understandably!!

Unfortunately, both Fibromyalgia and CFS are difficult to diagnose and differentiate due to their similar yet non-specific symptoms, and a specific cause has not been defined for either condition (Johnson et al 2016). However regardless of the unclear pathophysiology surrounding CFS and Fibromyalgia, their symptoms pose significant impacts on our lives physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and financially.

Prevalence of CFS/ME and Fibromyalgia in our busy lives

We live in a day and age of being constantly ‘switched on.’ What is often joked about as being a case of, Eat. Sleep. Work. Repeat, is actually more like wake up, eat, get kids dressed, pack lunches, drop off at school, sit in traffic, work, sit in traffic, think about dinner and lunches, collect groceries, make dinner, eat, clean up, put kids to bed, do the washing, keep house in order, pay bills, maintain social life, sleep, repeat.

Living in this state, it’s no wonder we’re increasingly noticing fatigue, tiredness, concentration issues and poor sleep in ourselves and others.

Fatigue and the Shift Worker

While every industry is affected to some degree by issues surrounding fatigue, some sectors which involve shift work have an inherently higher risk of fatigue amongst workers (Safe Work Australia 2019).  Fatigue is mental and/or physical exhaustion that reduces workers’ ability to perform tasks safely and effectively, ultimately increasing the risk of incidents and injury to themselves and others in the workplace (Safe Work Australia 2019).

In shift-working roles, work-related causes of fatigue can include; (Safe Work Australia 2019)

  1. prolonged or intense mental or physical activity
  2. long commuting times.
  3. sleep loss and/or disruption of your internal body clock
  4. exceptionally hot or cold working environments
  5. excessively long shifts
  6. not enough time to recover between shifts
  7. strenuous jobs

Is there a cure?

Unfortunately, no cure has been found for Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, however there are of course ways to control and manage symptoms.

Seeking support from various healthcare providers, finding ways to manage pain, getting adequate sleep and exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, listening to your body and discussing medicine options with your doctor can all pay a part in the effective management of symptoms of CFS/ME and Fibromyalgia (Arthritis Australia).

Managing Fatigue in the Workplace

Both employers and workers have a work health and safety duty to prevent or at the very least, manage fatigue in the workplace (Safe Work Australia 2019).

Providing information and training to workers regarding factors that can contribute to fatigue and the risks of fatigue, as well as implementing control measures to minimise the risk of fatigue in the workplace can assist workers to safely do their jobs (Safe Work Australia 2019).

Control measures that can minimise fatigue risks include; (Safe Work Australia 2019)

  1. effective work scheduling
  2. informed shift design and rostering
  3. job demands
  4. environmental conditions
  5. non work-related factors
  6. workplace fatigue policy

Once control measures have been implemented in the workplace, they should be monitored and reviewed to make sure they remain effective in minimising the risks of fatigue amongst workers (Safe Work Australia 2019).

What next?

If any of the discussed symptoms sound familiar to you, your best bet is paying your GP a visit for further discussion. Listen to your body as even though there’s no ‘cure’ for Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, establishing an appropriate and personalised management/treatment program can help towards effective control and management of individual symptoms.

REFERENCES if you are interested

Johnson et al 2016 Reference

Arthritis Australia Reference

Safe Work Australia – Fatigue Reference 2019

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