Working fathers with new babies experience cumulative fatigue which may pose a risk in the workplace, according to research from Southern Cross University.
Published recently in the American Journal of Men’s Health, the research found that such fathers are unable to recover due to poor sleep, and the fatigue new fathers experience is 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,” said Southern Cross University School of Health and Human Services senior lecturer Gary Mellor, who conducted the study in conjunction with Griffith University’s Winsome St John.
“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 research, based on a survey of almost 250 fathers with new babies mostly living on the Gold Coast, assessed them at six and 12 week stages and 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,” said Mellor.
“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.”
Measures may need to be put in place to help fathers cope with the strain of a new baby on their occupational health and safety, according to Mellor.
“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.”
Parental leave could also be taken over a period of time with fathers taking a long weekend or two over the first months of the birth, said Mellor.
“Employers may also be able to modify the risks at the workplace,” he said.
“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.”