A series of National Safety Council reports states that 13 percent of workplace injuries are attributable to fatigue.
So, what is fatigue? Its defined as “the body’s response to sleep deprivation or lengthy physical or mental hard work.” Occupational risk factors and those industries at the highest risk are where employees work long hours, overtime, or several days in a row; have a heavy workload and work in harsh environmental conditions.
Our bodies operate on a circadian rhythm cycle, a daily rhythm or a 24-hour cycle, which regulates the sleep cycle among other things. Working at night and out of sync of the circadian cycle can lead to fatigue and disorientation.
Employees who are termed shift workers – those where work takes place outside the traditional 9 to 5 timeframe – along with those who work extended shifts (more than 8 hours), rotating or irregular shifts or consecutive shifts are more susceptible to workplace fatigue risks.
Workplace Fatigue Affects Safety-Sensitive Industries
“Nearly 7 out of 10 workers feel tired on the job – including many in the safety-sensitive industries of construction, manufacturing, transportation and utilities – according to a National Safety Council report entitled, Fatigue in Safety-Critical Industries: Impact, Risks and Recommendations.”
- 97% of employers in transportation say they feel the effects of fatigue, with 66% reporting losses in productivity and 45% experiencing fatigue-related safety incidents.
- 98% of employers in manufacturing agree that it is unsafe to drive drowsy, compared with 77% of employees in the industry.
- All construction employees report observing at least one risk factor of fatigue. Working a demanding job (77%) and working high-risk hours (46%) were most common.
Industries most affected by workplace fatigue include: Healthcare, transportation, emergency personnel (firefighters, police officers, first responders), military personnel, construction, oil fields, service and hospitality, just to name a few.
Workplace Fatigue is a Safety & Health Issue
Today, we are more than ever a society that works and plays around-the-clock making fatigue an increasing health and safety problem.
Workplace fatigue can result in: impaired thinking and decreases in attention, memory, and concentration, all of which can lead to being less alert and less safe in the workplace.
Driving while fatigued is like driving under the influence. Driving on 4-5 hours of sleep means you are four times more likely to crash.
Up to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder. Left untreated, these can contribute to decreased productivity, lead to higher rates of absenteeism and exacerbate other health problems.
In this NSC Safety + Health article, Emily Whitcomb, senior program manager of the fatigue initiative at NSC was quoted as saying, “These four industries [construction, transporation, utilities and manufacturing] often require 24/7 operations, putting their workforce at a higher risk of fatigue. Safety is a priority for these industries, and tired employees are more likely to make mistakes. Safety management systems that address fatigue risk is a best practice to reducing near misses, safety-critical incidents, injuries and fatalities.”
- Heart disease
- Stomach and digestive problems
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Reproductive problems
- Some cancers (breast and prostate)
- Sleep disorders
- Poor eating habits/obesity
- Worsening of existing chronic diseases such as diabetes and epilepsy
Managing the Risks of Fatigue in the Workplace
As employers and employees, some of the things we can do to mitigate fatigue risk factors are:
- Understand the importance of sleep
- Educate ourselves about fatigue-related hazards, how to recognize fatigue and better understand sleep disorders
- Look at our workplaces and come up with ways to help reduce the effects of fatigue, for instance, creating brighter workplaces, having settings where employees can take naps or just go to a more restful place
- Review how shifts are scheduled and adjust accordingly.
Resources to Help You
• NSC Fatigue Cost Calculator. This tool can help employers gauge how much fatigue is affecting their bottom line while providing strategies to help mitigate the problem.
• 5 Minute Safety Talk: Sleep Better Work Better
• Tip Sheet: Fight Fatigue Risks