Fatigue – Technical Guidelines

This chapter provides guidance in relation to fatigue.

Section 5


Productions can be a demanding undertaking, not only in the duration of the production but also in the hours expected of cast and crew on a daily basis. We need to look after our people and consider the potential for fatigue throughout a production and how we can manage it.

While how to manage fatigue is not specifically legislated, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 we are all responsible for workplace health and safety, and that includes fatigue.

This chapter is primarily based on guidance issued by:

  • WorkSafe NZ;
  • the Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety;
  • the New Zealand Film & Video Technicians Guild and The Screen Production & Development Associations; and
  • WorkSmart, United Kingdom.

The chapter also draws from The Blue Book: The Code of Practice for the Engagement of Crew in the New Zealand Screen Production Industry.


Definitions specifically related to fatigue.

Day off is an unpaid scheduled period, usually at the end of the working week intended for rest. Specified timings for short and long term engagements are outlined in the Blue Book.

Fatigue is the state of feeling very tired, weary or sleepy resulting from insufficient sleep, prolonged mental or physical work, or extended periods of stress or anxiety.

Jet lag is the rapid movement (faster than one time zone per day) across more than three time zones

Rest an uninterrupted period during which work should not be undertaken – in a production it is ideally a 10-hour stand-down.

Scheduled day means the set period of time in which a worker is scheduled to carry out their duties.

Who needs to read this?

All workers involved in a production have health and safety duties regarding fatigue and should read and understand the section on ‘minimum responsibilities for everybody’. Roles that have direct influence over other workers should also read the ‘planning and guidance considerations’ section; this includes production company representatives, producers, directors, production managers, heads of departments, assistant directors, health and safety officers and location managers.

What we need to know about fatigue

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is a state of physical and/or mental exhaustion that may impair an individual’s strength, speed, reaction time, coordination, decision making capability or balance, diminishing their ability to perform work safely and effectively. Fatigue reduces alertness, which can lead to errors and an increase in workplace incidents and injuries.

Research has shown that people who have gone without sleep for an extended period of time are just as impaired as people who are over the legal alcohol limit.

Fatigue can be described as either:

  • acute – resulting from short-term sleep loss or short periods of heavy physical or mental work, and usually can be reversed by sleep and/or relaxation; or
  • chronic – the constant, severe state of tiredness that is not relived by rest, with symptoms similar to the flu and can last longer than six months.


Types of fatigue

Circadian rhythm disruption occurs when a worker’s normal, 24-hour, rhythmic biological cycle is disrupted from its current setting due to either:

  • shift lag – one or more nights of work; and
  • jet lag – rapid movement (faster than one time zone per day) across more than three time zones.

Cumulative fatigue or sleep deprivation is when a worker’s mental capability is weakened due to disturbed or shortened major sleep periods. Several major uninterrupted sleep periods will be needed to reduce or eliminate the sleep debt.

Emotional fatigue can result from excessive job and/or personal demands and stress.

Mental fatigue can be caused by continual mental effort and attention on a particular task, as well as high levels of stress or emotion. Mental fatigue can be related to cumulative fatigue or sleep deprivation.

Physical fatigue is when an individual’s physical capability is weakened due to overexertion – both prolonged physical activity and brief but relatively extreme physical activity can tax a worker’s physical endurance or strength beyond their normal limits. Physical fatigue can either be due to dynamic work, where muscles are continually moving, or static work, where muscles are held tens.

Find out more about common types of fatigue in Appendix 1.


What causes fatigue?

Just as there are different types of fatigue, there are many different reasons why fatigue may occur; it is important we are all aware of what can cause fatigue so we can help prevent it from occurring.

While the most common cause of fatigue is disturbance to sleep, with fatigue being higher among shift-workers, there any many reasons why fatigue may occur and we should consider all possible factors.

The below tables outline some factors that can contribute to fatigue within the screen sector

Work schedules
  • Long work hours, irregular work hours and night work limit the time for a person to physically and mentally recover from work
  • Working at night interrupts the natural sleeping rhythm
Sleep disruption
  • Everyone needs a certain amount of sleep to stay alert and perform well – generally between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep a night
  • The most beneficial sleep is deep, undisturbed and taken in a single continuous period
  • When the length and quality of sleep is disrupted, fatigue may result
  • Sleep disruption can include insomnia or sleep apnea
  • Substances such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can negatively affect the quality of sleep
Environmental conditions
  • Climate extremes (such as working outside in winter or humidity)
  • Noise
  • Handling vibrating tools
  • Slippery or rough underfoot
  • Sloping surfaces
Physical exertion
  • Physically demanding work
  • Constant holding a posture
  • A worker’s fitness can play a role in the level of physical fatigue experienced
Mentally demanding work
  • Mental demands, such as tasks that require periods of intense concentration
Emotional well-being
  • Some work events can be emotionally tiring, such as regular criticism or the pressure to complete a task to a deadline
  • Non-work events can also cause distress – for example, when a person faces the loss of a loved one or tries to resolve personal conflicts

How do we identify fatigue?

Some symptoms of fatigue can only be identified by the individual:
  • sluggish feeling
  • headaches and / or dizziness
  • need for extended sleep
  • feeling weary
  • difficulty concentrating
  • blurred vision

Other signs can also be identified by others:

Acute – sudden onset

  • forgetfulness or memory loss
  • reduced decision making ability
  • reduced productivity and/or performance
  • reduced vigilance
  • excessive yawning
  • micro-naps / unable to stay awake
  • poor communication
  • poor decision making and errors in judgement
  • increased tendency for risk-taking
  • reduced alertness and reaction time
  • lack of appetite
Chronic – develops over time

  • digestive problems
  • apathy
  • depression
  • lethargy
  • moodiness or irritability
  • reduced ability to handle stress on the job
  • reduced immune system
  • increased sick time


These lists of symptoms are not exhaustive, and you should consult a professional if you have concerns about fatigue on the production set.

A check list for identifying fatigue, and causes, can be found in Appendix 2.


Minimum responsibilities for everybody

Everyone involved in a screen production should read and understand this section.

Everyone involved in a production should:

  • understand what causes fatigue;
  • understand the signs and symptoms of fatigue, for both themselves and others; and
  • ensure they advise the health and safety officer, their direct supervisor, the assistant directors, and/or the production manager/office if they become aware of fatigue or the potential for fatigue.

Everyone is responsible for ensuring their exposure to fatigue is minimised to prevent risks to health and safety, and should:

  • have a nutritious diet;
  • get adequate sleep, this could include, but is not limited to:
    • knowing about sleep, sleep disorders and sleep hygiene
    • exercising regularly, but not just before going to bed
    • using bed primarily for sleeping
    • avoiding caffeine, tobacco and alcohol, especially close to when you plan on sleeping
    • making the bedroom as quiet and dark as possible
    • negotiating with others if sleep must occur during the day
    • understand what tasks to do and what not to do if sleep is compromised
  • get adequate meal and rest breaks during work shifts;
  • have adequate rest between shifts; and
  • use recovery time wisely



The use of stimulants, such as nicotine, caffeine, and some other drugs, can help maintain alertness in the short-term; however, they can cause individuals to “crash” as the effects wear off, and lead to poor quality sleep.

If cast and crew are constantly relying on stimulants to keep them alert, we need to consider what is causing the fatigue and what can be done to prevent, or reduce, it.

Coffee is not a solution to fatigue, it merely masks it.

Sleeping tablets can reduce fatigue, if used appropriately and for limited periods of time. However, each different type has advantages and disadvantages and generally they just mask the problem if the causes of sleep problems remain


Planning and guidance considerations and responsibilities

Everyone who is responsible for, or has influence over, an activity or task in relation to a production should read and understand this section, as well as the minimum responsibilities for everybody.

This includes funders, production company representatives, directors, producers, production managers, line producers, heads of department, assistant director/s and health and safety officers. All of whom should follow the guidance provided in the below sections on ‘identifying the risk of fatigue’ and ‘managing the risk of fatigue’, as well as the section for their specific role.

Assessing the risk of fatigue

Everyone who is responsible for an activity or task in relation to a production should understand what causes fatigue and know how to identify fatigue. We are all responsible for taking reasonable care of our own health and safety and ensuring that our actions, or inactions, do not harm others – including understanding fatigue.

It’s important that we don’t solely rely on someone already showing signs of fatigue to identify the risk of fatigue occurring. We should all consider fatigue when:

  • a new job is started;
  • there is a change or increase in work demand;
  • designing work schedules and allocating tasks;
  • assigning physically or mentally demanding tasks; or
  • moving across time zones.

The risk of fatigue can also be assessed by:

  • consulting with cast and crew;
  • looking at work practices and schedules;
  • reviewing previous safety event information; and
  • using specific assessment tools, if required – see ppendix 3 for an example.

The risk of fatigue should always be considered across all roles on a production. In particular, fatigue needs to be constantly monitored in higher-risk areas of work, such as driving, operating heavy machinery or equipment, working at heights, working in extreme environments, working with hazardous substances or electrical work, or stunt work.



There are specific circumstances on a production that can contribute to fatigue. We should all know and understand what these are:

  • repeated, long and extended hours;
  • difficult technical set ups;
  • poor production planning; and
  • bad weather delaying productions.

While we cannot predict the future, some of these causes of fatigue can either be avoided or managed through proactive and smart planning.

A key component of risk management is about identifying the potential for fatigue. If we are aware of a risk that could cause fatigue, and we do nothing to try to manage that risk then something goes wrong – we haven’t done our job to ensure the health and safety of all workers and others affected by our work.

If something goes wrong because someone was fatigued, and you could have managed the circumstance that led to that fatigue, how would you feel?

Managing the risk of fatigue

While it is understood that production sets are not your typical 9-to-5 workplace, fatigue must still be managed. Everyone responsible for setting or organising an activity or task in relation to the production should always consider how they could prevent fatigue from occurring.

Remember, as PCBU’s and individual workers we are all responsible for making every effort, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure the safety of ourselves and others.
Below are some key factors that should be considered to help prevent fatigue from occurring.



The search for the perfect work schedule is a wild goose chase; but by acknowledging the need for balance and flexibility we can help prevent fatigue.

  • The Blue Book: The Code of Practice for the Engagement of Crew in the New Zealand Screen Production Industry should always be consulted when setting work schedules.
  • Schedule tasks suitably throughout a work period.
    • It is important to understand that for most people their ability to be alert or to focus is at its lowest between 3am and 5am, and 3pm and 5pm. During these natural low-function times, adopt a conservative approach to safety and avoid critical jobs, where practicable.
  • If night work is deemed essential to the production, fatigue must then be considered as an increased potential risk.
  • Consider how people will get to and from work.
    • Workers who don’t work traditional 9am-5pm days, such a screen industry crew, have more accidents commuting to and from work than those who do work 9am to 5pm, which are likely to be caused by fatigue.
  • Try to schedule work so workers can get at least two consecutive nights’ sleep (with a normal day in between) each week, as this will help reduce the risk of fatigue.
  • Ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that working hours are not too long. If longer working days are required, consider staggered start and finish times, and/or longer rest breaks and periods off work.
  • Ensure the schedules allow enough recovery time for a good nights’ sleep.
  • Monitor and place limits around overtime worked. Avoid incentives to work excessive hours – remember, every extra hour worked is an hour’s less recovery time.



  • Design schedules to allow for good sleep opportunity and recovery time between work days.
  • Design schedules that minimise disruptions to natural sleeping rhythms.
  • If night work is required, try to limit a workers’ number of scheduled nights in a row.

Remember people are ‘programmed’ to be awake during the day and asleep at night


  • Avoid working during periods of extreme temperature, or minimise exposure through job rotation.
  • Outdoor work, rough surfaces, sloping surfaces, wind and sunlight / heat can all cause fatigue.
  • Provide adequate facilities for rest breaks, such as shade and access to potable water.



  • Limit periods of excessive mental or physical demands (ie through job rotation where practicable).
  • Ensure fit for purpose plant, machinery and equipment is used at the workplace.
  • Make sure workloads are manageable. Take into account work flow changes due to factors such as production delay, machinery breakdowns, unplanned absences or resignations. Avoid impractical deadlines.



  • Where possible, be aware of personal circumstances that affect your workers and provide support. Allow time off where circumstances require. As appropriate, ensure co-workers are aware of any important issues affecting
    their colleagues.
  • Create a positive work environment where good relationships exist and workers are encouraged and supported. Provide good supervision.



  • Ensure there is good lighting and ventilation.
  • Provide rest facilities where possible.
  • Provide healthy meals – nutritional requirements vary from daytime to night-time and should be considered.



Consider developing a fatigue policy to sit alongside your health and safety policy.

The policy should include information about:

  • maximum workday length and average weekly hours;
  • work-related travel;
  • procedures for reporting fatigue risks; and
  • procedures for managing fatigued workers.

Make sure anyone can report fatigue-related issues, and ensure you investigate incidents where fatigue may be involved.



Funders should:

  • be assured, through the provision of the production’s health and safety plan, that the funding provided is adequate for the proposed length of the production process, so as not to lead to fatigue; and
  • incorporate health and safety clause/s in the funding agreement, which might include expected standard hours of engagement.


Production company

In pre-production, production companies (likely to have primary responsibility over health and safety on the production) should:

  • consider whether the proposed length of the production shoot, the locations or other factors, and daily hours could lead to fatigue; and
  • clearly articulate the requirement for fatigue to be managed through the production life-cycle.

The production company should consider developing a fatigue policy to demonstrate commitment to fatigued management.

If it is not reasonably practicable to manage the risk of fatigue and reduce hours of work during the production, the production company should consider providing:

  • nearby accommodation; and / or
  • transport.


Producer / production manager

As producers and production managers have oversight across the production, they should:

  • consider the potential for fatigue when planning and allocating tasks;
  • ensure the potential for fatigue is either eliminated or minimised;
  • provide adequate rest between or during shifts; and
  • ensure the potential for fatigue and any controls in place are included on daily call sheets.

If it not reasonably practicable to manage the risk of fatigue and reduce hours of work, the producer should consider providing:

  • nearby accommodation; and / or
  • transport.


Line producer

Line producers also have oversight of the production process and should create a production schedule that provides adequate time for the work to be undertaken.


Director / Heads of Department

Directors and heads of department should:

  • consider the potential for fatigue when planning and allocating tasks; and
  • ensure the potential for fatigue is either eliminated or minimised.


Assistant director/s

The assistant director/s should:

  • ensure the potential for fatigue is discussed with all cast and crew during health and safety inductions and / or as required if circumstances on the set change;
  • create a production schedule that provides adequate time for the work to be undertaken;
  • understand how to identify and control fatigue;
  • ensure appropriate people are informed if crew members are fatigued, for example heads of department; and
  • report incidents of fatigue where necessary, for example if fatigue leads to a notifiable event.


Health and safety officer

The health and safety officer should:

  • work with the producer, production manager and heads of department to help them identify the potential for fatigue;
  • ensure the potential for fatigue is discussed with all cast and crew during health and safety inductions and / or as required if circumstances on the set change; and
  • understand how to identify and control fatigue; and
  • report incidents of fatigue where necessary, for example if fatigue leads to a notifiable event.

Appendix 1:

comparison of types of fatigue common to the screen industry

The table describes several characteristics of types of fatigue common to the screen industry.


Appendix 2:

identifying fatigue, and causes, checklist

This checklist provides guidance to assist in identifying fatigue but is not an exhaustive list of risk factors. If the answer is yes to any of the questions, fatigue risks should be further assessed and control measures implemented, as required.


Appendix 3:

tool to determine levels of fatigue

Prior Sleep and Wake Rules (PSWR) are based on the sleep requirements of the average adult, and can be used to calculate the likelihood of fatigue.

The PSWR are likely to underestimate the fatigue likelihood score (FLS) in older adults, teenagers and those workers who suffer from disrupted sleep. Therefore, it should be used with caution.

The following table uses PSWR to help determine a fatigue likelihood score.


Appendix 4:


Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety. 2016. Fatigue.

Available at http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/fatigue.html [accessed 16 June 2016]

The Department of Labour. 2007. Managing shift work to minimise workplace fatigue: a guide for employers. Wellington.

The New Zealand Film & Video Technicians Guild and The Screen Production & Development Associations. 2004. The Blue Book: The Code of Practice for the Engagement of Crew in the New Zealand Screen Production Industry. New Zealand.

WorkSafe New Zealand. 2014. Fatigue in construction. [online]

Available at http://www.business.govt.nz/worksafe/information-guidance/all-guidance-items/ fatigue-in-construction-fact-sheet#_ftn1 [accessed 20 June 2016]16

WorkSmart. 2016. What is the definition of a rest break form work?

Available at https://worksmart.org.uk/work-rights/pay-and-contracts/hours-work/whatdefinition-rest-break-work [accessed 5 June 2016]

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