How to Combat Different Types of Workplace Fatigue
Of all the common workplace hazards employers must address, fatigue is quickly becoming a major focal point because it is so widespread. As part of its ongoing efforts to improve employee health and safety, the National Safety Council (NSC) is encouraging employers to get serious about fighting fatigue at work with resources to educate workers about the importance of sleep.
According to recent NSC research, around 90% of US employers have been negatively impacted by tired employees and close to 43% of American workers admit to being too tired to function safely at work. The first step to making a real difference is for employers and employees to understand the causes and effects of workplace fatigue.
What Are the Main Causes of Fatigue?
Working hard to get ahead is a mindset of many Americans, yet taking on additional hours and responsibilities comes with a number of health risks. Lack of sleep is, of course, a major contributor, as more than a third of American adults get less than the recommended seven hours each night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While many people believe fatigue is the result of not getting enough sleep, several work-related causes can compound the problem:
- Irregular and rotating shifts
- Long hours and excessive overtime
- Overexertion and infrequent breaks
- Tedious and repetitive tasks
Developing comprehensive solutions to reduce workplace fatigue takes more than just a surface-level understanding of the issue — it requires a steadfast commitment to the overall health and well-being of your employees.
How Fatigue Impacts Your Workers
Although general drowsiness is the most common symptom, it’s important to note that fatigue can come in many different forms. For example, workers that spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen may experience eye fatigue, which can lead to temporary discomfort, migraines and even double vision. Employees working in safety-critical industries are particularly vulnerable to fatigue-related injuries, in part due to the presence of toxic production materials and heavy machinery.
Common Effects of Fatigue:
- Decreased attention and vigilance
- Difficulties staying awake
- Higher tendencies for risk-taking
- Impaired decision-making abilities
- Increased errors in judgment
- Reduced productivity or performance
- Slow reaction times
These are just a few of the possible symptoms your workers may experience while fatigued, as every job has its own unique operational risks. In terms of worker populations, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that fatigue is most common among employees with abnormal schedules, such as healthcare providers, transportation workers, construction workers and hospitality staff.
Drivers face some of the highest risks when it comes to workplace fatigue. Around 40% of occupational fatalities are caused by traffic accidents, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). And drowsy vehicle operators are three times more likely to be involved in a crash, even if they are well-versed in defensive driving techniques.
Generally speaking, fatigue leads to higher rates of workplace accidents and a significant decrease in efficiency. An NSC report entitled “Managing Fatigue” found that a single employee with sleep problems can cost an employer close to $3,500 per year in lost productivity and absenteeism, not including increases in healthcare costs, the impact of lawsuits, or any breach-of-contract issues that may ensue. As such, tackling workplace fatigue head-on can not only safeguard your workers from serious or fatal injuries, it can also protect your company from substantial financial losses.
3 Tips to Fight Work-Related Fatigue:
Reducing the impact of fatigue can be a real challenge, as comprehensive programs must address employee habits both on- and off-the-job. Luckily, the Campbell Institute has created a detailed report on how employers can build an effective fatigue risk management process, which includes the following recommendations:
1. Science-based scheduling practices: Managing work and rest periods based on a scientific understanding of sleep and the body clock can help employers establish limits on daily and weekly work hours. For example, creating minimum rest periods and limiting on-call hours can prevent employees from upsetting their sleep cycles. It’s also important to develop clear policies for overtime hours that give workers an opportunity to refresh and re-energize.
2. Education and training: Providing your employees with detailed resources on sleep health and fatigue can stimulate open dialogue and motivate them to prioritize their personal well-being. This is especially important for workers who suffer from chronic sleep problems, as proper conditioning and nutrition may help to alleviate some of their symptoms. Additionally, employers should advise their high-risk workers to speak with a professional healthcare provider about any sleep issues they may be having.
3. Monitoring and continuous improvement: Conducting fatigue risk assessments is the best way to identify and address specific factors that may impact your employees’ ability to work safely and productively. For example, you might create a “fitness for duty checklist” that allows workers to report how much sleep they are getting and whether they are experiencing prolonged bouts of fatigue. Employers should also review their employees’ job descriptions to locate risk factors and formulate specific action plans.