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Combating Worker Fatigue

Combating Worker Fatigue

Combating Worker Fatigue

As about 38 percent of U.S. workers sleep less than seven hours a night, according to a study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, worker fatigue is an issue increasingly affecting workplaces throughout the country. It is most concerning in occupations where machinery will be operated because fatigue can impair a driver/operator’s ability to safely maintain focus throughout their shift. As such, it’s important for companies to consider how they can better support and educate their workers on the dangers of fatigue and work together on how to avoid any fatigue-related issues.

Worker fatigue is a problem both because of safety-related implications and productivity loss.

  • Several studies state that workers who have a sleeping disorder are more likely to be involved in a workplace safety incident
  • Fatigue-related productivity losses cost almost $2,000 per worker each year, according to estimates from a 2010 study conducted by Alertness Solutions

Lack of sleep results in a 13 percent increased risk of death and the loss of 1.2 million workdays per year in the United States, according to a report by RAND Corp. The report recommends companies to create a culture within their organizations that:

  • Understand the importance of sleep and promote it
  • Create brighter workplaces with settings for naps
  • Deter lengthy use of electronic devices after work

According to an article published by the Manufacturing Safety Alliance, lack of sleep and worker fatigue can have negative effects on many aspects of a worker’s life, including:

  • Ability to make decisions
  • Ability to do complex planning
  • Communication skills
  • Productivity and performance
  • Attention
  • Ability to handle stress
  • Reaction time
  • Ability to recall details
  • Ability to respond to changes in surroundings or information provided

Fatigue can also result in:

  • Inability to stay awake
  • Increased forgetfulness
  • Increased errors in judgment
  • Over the long term, fatigue can result in negative health effects, such as loss of appetite and digestive problems, and other chronic health conditions, including depression. These effects can result in:
  • Increased sick time, absenteeism and rate of turnover
  • Increased medical costs
  • One study has shown that fatigue can have similar effects to drinking alcohol:
  • 17 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.05
  • 21 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.08
  • 24–25 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.10

According to the article published by the Manufacturing Safety Alliance, there are some measures that can be taken that may improve one’s quality of sleep, including:

  • Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day
  • Turning out the lights immediately once going to bed
  • Not reading or watching television in bed
  • Making the room as dark and quiet as possible
  • Some people sleep better in a cool room
  • Establishing regular eating times
  • Avoiding caffeine, tobacco and alcohol, especially before bedtime
  • Exercising regularly

Although workers are responsible for being well-rested, managers should provide information, motivation and resources, according to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Communication is one of the most important ways to combat worker fatigue, according to an article published by Toyota Forklifts. The article suggests educating workers on fatigue-related issues and working together to determine the biggest causes of their fatigue so that it can be addressed. For example, if the lighting in the work environment is an issue then companies might consider looking for more ergonomic alternatives. Another important suggestion communicated in the article is the vital necessity of establishing methods of communication between workers and the organization. This is critical so that any issue can be addressed before it becomes a safety hazard or contributes to an unsafe work environment.

The ACOEM offers the following suggested characteristics for an effective fatigue risk management system:

  • Supported by peer-reviewed science
  • Decisions determined by data collection and analysis
  • System-wide use of tools, systems, policies and procedures
  • Constructed into the corporate safety and health management systems
  • Ownership taken by senior leaders
  • Shift scheduling
  • Training for employees on fatigue and managing sleep disorders
  • Workplace design
  • Monitoring of fatigue

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