View all news

Fatigued fathers pose a risk in the workplace


Steve Spinks
23 January 2012
Working fathers with new babies experience cumulative fatigue which may pose a risk in the workplace, according to new research from Southern Cross University.

The study conducted by Southern Cross University senior lecturer Dr Gary Mellor from the School of Health and Human Services in conjunction with Dr Winsome St John, of Griffith University, investigated the relationship between fatigue and work safety behaviour of fathers with new babies using a survey that included 241 fathers mostly living on the Gold Coast.

The research, published recently in the American Journal of Men’s Health, found that fathers do experience increased fatigue during early fatherhood and are unable to recover due to poor sleep and furthermore that fatigue was related to decreased safety behaviour at work.

“I came up with the idea while I was at a barbecue just after we had had our second child and I was telling the guys how tired I was and how I had nearly run off the road,” Dr Mellor said.

“The guys at the barbecue then told me similar stories and I checked the research and not much had been done about sleep deprivation in fathers and how that affected their safety at work or to and from work.

“The survey was completed once by the fathers at six weeks and then again at 12 weeks and we found that while fatigue was increasing, the way fathers thought about safety at work changed.

“We had very little attrition from the study with 93 per cent of participants seeing it through. Men were keen to tell their story and it seems they are 36 per cent more likely to have a near miss at work and 26 per cent more likely to have a near miss on the road to and from work than someone else.

“The results paint a disturbing picture of fathers with babies undergoing worsening fatigue over the first 12 weeks of their baby’s life, unrelieved by poor and interrupted sleep and with potential consequences to their work safety.”

Dr Mellor suggests that measures may need to be implemented to help fathers cope with the strain of a new baby on their occupational health and safety.

“Parental leave may need to be reconsidered with the way it is allocated,” he said.

“Most of the men in the study had time off at the birth but perhaps parental leave for fathers should be taken later in the baby’s life rather than the first two weeks. This is when fathers are most fatigued and it would allow them time to overcome it.

“Or perhaps parental leave could be taken over a period of time with fathers taking a long weekend or two over the first months of the birth.

“Employers may also be able to modify the risks at the workplace. They can modify the work environment to ensure fatigued new fathers are not doing dangerous jobs or perhaps they could dilute the job or be flexible so that the fatigued workers can rearrange their work.”

Dr Mellor said participants in the study worked an average of 49 hours per week and only took five days off at the birth of the baby. He said while they loved being a Dad they felt the need to work longer hours because their family needed the money, which could exacerbate the fatigue of fathers.

Photo: Dr Gary Mellor.