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Coping with fatigue

Fatigue is a physical and/or mental state of feeling tired and weak. Physical fatigue results in an inability to continue functioning at normal levels of physical ability. Mental fatigue affects concentration and thought processes. Although mental and physical fatigue are different, they often occur at the same time. Physical work and extremes such as temperature and weather can have an impact on crews.

Incident commanders should be aware of the effects of fatigue on themselves and others, and ensure people are relieved appropriately. Some effects include:

Signs and symptoms

Behavioural indicators

Less expressive communication

Difficulty in expressing self

Becoming withdrawn

Reduced communication


Emotional indicators



Vulnerability due to loss of control

Physical indicators

Impaired motor skills

Poor timing

Failure of co-ordination

Cognitive (thought process) indicators

Impaired thought processes

Difficulty in adapting to changes

Lowered creativity

Difficulty in making decisions

Acceptance of lower standards of behaviour

Overtly distracted by discomfort

Neglecting tasks

Incident commanders should recognise the effects of fatigue in themselves and their crews. They can manage the effects of fatigue by:

  • Rotating crews
  • Arranging welfare
  • Providing reliefs

The right time for these arrangements will depend on the type of incident and its duration. Incident commanders should take action before fatigue begins to reduce performance.