Preventing Worker Fatigue

 

Fatigue, in short, is the state of being tired.  It can be caused by long hours of work, extended periods of physical or mental activity, inadequate rest, and excessive stress.  Signs of fatigue vary from worker to worker, but there are some general physical signs and symptoms of fatigue.

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Safety Basics: Avoiding Fatigue on the Job Click Image to View

Here are a few:

  • tiredness
  • sleepiness
  • irritability
  • depression
  • loss of appetite
  • digestive problems
  • increased susceptibility to illness

In addition to physical signs and symptoms, fatigued workers may have their ability to perform mental and physical tasks impaired.  These can include slower reaction time, flawed logic and judgement, inability to concentrate, and reduced motivation.  Although difficult to measure, as you can imagine, fatigue has been identified as playing a significant role in the number of workplace accidents.

Sleep Loss and Disturbance

You may have some experience with sleep loss and how it affects your ability to function on the job.  There is considerable variation on the amount of sleep needed, on average, workers needs between 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep per day.  It may be easier to catch up on lost sleep the next day, but cutting sleep periods short for a long period of time, such as weeks or months, leads to a condition of chronic sleep deprivation and results in performance inefficiency.  Some studies of partial sleep deprivation show workers can tolerate a certain degree of sleep loss without having their performance levels significantly affected.  Fatigue and stress from tough work schedules can also be compounded by heavy physical workloads, long commutes, and personal demands on workers.

Employer Responsibility

Employers should develop and implement a written Fatigue Risk Management Plan (FRMP) or system to reduce worker health and safety risks.

Plan

The plan should include the following components:

  • means of collecting information on fatigue hazards and analyzing its risk
  • reporting system for employees for injuries and incidents associated with fatigue
  • training and education for employees and management
  • review FRMP to determine effectiveness

Train

  • Provide worker training on the hazards and symptoms of fatigue, the impact of fatigue on health and personal interactions at work, and personal strategies for getting enough sleep.
  • Ensure workers are evaluated and trained in the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Promote Rest Periods

  • Employers should establish at least 10 consecutive hours of non-work time to make sure employees are getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep.
  • Plan 1 or 2 full rest days AFTER five consecutive 8-hour shifts.  Days off are important to allow extra time to recover after working long hours.
  • Schedule adequate rest breaks during work shifts.  Frequent and short rest breaks during demanding work are much more effective against fatigue than a few longer breaks.

Worker Responsibility

  • Both employers and workers need to view sleep as a critical item and need to make good quality sleep a priority to protect workers against fatigue.  Here are a few things to consider:
  • Use the buddy system so they can monitor each other and promote activities to increase the alertness of their partner.
  • Always report workplace hazards to employers.
  • Sleep 7-8 hours every 24-period without disruptions.
  • Sleep at the same time every day.
  • If you are working an evening or night shift, get a good amount of sleep prior to your shift to avoid coming to work fatigued.

Additional Resources

Overtime and Extended Work Shifts: Recent Findings on Illnesses, Injuries and Health Behaviors (PDF). National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH Pub. No. 2004-143, April 2004). Summarizes recent findings about the relationship between overtime and extended work shifts on worker health and safety.

Improving Shift Work Schedules. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Addresses health effects of shift work and ways to improve work schedules.

Your Guide to Healthy Sleep (PDF). National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute. Provides information about common sleep myths, practical tips for getting enough sleep and coping with nighttime shiftwork.