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Loss Control Insights

Rest Easy: How to Fight Workplace Fatigue

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Here’s a startling statement: A lack of sleep is as dangerous as alcohol impairment. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), losing as little as two hours of sleep has an effect similar to drinking three beers, while staying awake for more than 20 hours at a time is the equivalent of being legally drunk.

Fatigued workers often don’t think clearly and have a slower reaction time. They make more errors, have more accidents and take more risks.

A Question to Consider

It’s likely that fatigued employees are in your workplace right now. Do you really want worn-out workers performing tasks in your workplace? Here are the top reasons for fatigue, and ways you can keep your workers on track and safe on the job.

  1. Extended Work Schedules—This may include 10- to 12-hour work shifts, lots of overtime or too many days without time off. EMC Industrial Hygienist Kelsie Boorn says, “We are seeing more extended work shifts that require high physicality. This practice isn’t going to change because organizations have higher production demands, so managers need to encourage employees to rest and be ready for their shifts.”
  2. What You Can Do

    • Educate employees on ways to stay rested and free from injury during long shifts
    • Schedule days off to give workers time to recuperate; it’s recommended that day shifts should be limited to five or six shifts in a row, and night shifts to four consecutive shifts, with at least two days off in a row
    • Allow adequate breaks and watch that employees take the time to eat, drink water, rest and get off their feet
    • Discourage work meetings during breaks
    • Limit overtime before or after regular shifts

  3. Unusual Shift Schedules—Our bodies have natural cycles that, for the most part, keep us awake during the day and asleep at night. Going against those natural inclinations (e.g., working late nights or early mornings) causes stress on our bodies. Employees on rotating shifts are the most at risk, as their bodies can’t adapt to their changing schedules and disrupted sleep patterns.
  4. What You Can Do

    • Create schedules that minimize rotating or back-to-back shifts
    • Provide adequate time off

  5. Working Multiple Jobs—More workers than ever are punching the clock at more than one company, leaving little time for sleep and responsibilities at home. As an employer, you may not be aware that some of your employees are burning the candle at both ends by working another job (or two).
  6. What You Can Do

    • Create a clear policy on working multiple jobs, including requiring employees to disclose any additional employment so supervisors can carefully watch for problems
    • Educate employees on the need for adequate rest and down time to stay safe and healthy

  7. Working in Harsh Conditions—Fatigue is heightened when working in physically or mentally stressful conditions. This includes adverse outdoor conditions (e.g., heat, humidity, rain or snow) and unpleasant indoor environments (e.g., wet, noisy or poor air quality).
  8. What You Can Do

    • Remedy the poor conditions as much as possible
    • Ensure that the work environment meets regulatory and recommended standards
    • Require regular breaks by moving inside or away from the adverse work area

  9. Driving While Fatigued— According to the NSC, drivers are three times more likely to be in a crash if fatigued. It’s not just employees who drive as part of their job who are at risk, but also workers commuting to and from long shifts.
  10. What You Can Do

    • Set policies on driving duration, frequency of breaks and times when driving is not allowed (such as banning all-night driving, if possible), as well as how much rest is required between shifts (at least six hours of sleep is essential)
    • Let workers know that caffeine, sugar, open windows and loud music are not substitutes for driving while rested
    • Install sensors in trucks to monitor drivers and alert them if they are nodding off; these sensors can also send a notice to the company
    • Provide an area where workers can rest or catch a 15- to 20-minute power nap on breaks or before driving home after a shift

  11. Insomnia, Apnea or Other Sleep-Related Health Problems—Even if workers try to sleep well, medical conditions or poor sleep habits may deter them from getting a good night’s rest.
  12. What You Can Do

Other Ways to Fight Fatigue

  • Keep lights bright as dim lighting can cause sleepiness.
  • Keep the building temperature on the cool side as heat can lead to drowsiness.
  • Shake up the work flow, especially on night shifts. Long, repetitive, boring and monotonous tasks can cause a sleepy worker to nod off, as can tasks that must be sustained for a long time. Rotating workers to other tasks if they appear tired may energize them.

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