Fatigue at work is a significant contributor to occupational injuries and illnesses. It’s also the point of special emphasis in the third week of the National Safety Council’s National Safety Month 2019 (#NSM).
As a result, we’re going to take a special look at issues related to fatigue on the job in this article in the hopes of providing some information that may help avoid some injuries and illnesses (and maybe even a fatality).
If you’ve been keeping track, you also know we’ve already written about hazard recognition and slips, trips, and falls for national safety month. You might also want to check out what our friends at RedVector have been writing on for National Safety Month. Next week we’ll both be addressing impairment issues.
The High Safety and Health Cost of Fatigue at Work at What To Do About It
Let’s learn a little more about fatigue at work.
Injuries and Illnesses Associated with Fatigue at Work
According to OSHA, worker fatigue (which OSHA associates with long work hours and extended or irregular work shifts, is a significant contributor to safety and health issues at work. Compared to day shifts, accident and injury rates are 18% higher during evening shifts and 30% higher during night shifts. In addition, working 12 hours a day is associated with a 37% increase in the risk of injury. And a study of medical residents found that every extended shift scheduled in a month was associated with a 16.2% increase in the risk of a motor vehicle crash during the commute home from work.
What Causes Fatigue at Work?
Fatigue can be caused by many factors.
An obvious factor causing fatigue is too little sleep, poor quality sleep, or interrupted sleep.
Other causes include long work hours, extended work shifts, and irregular work shifts, all of which can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
What Worker Populations Are At Risk of Fatigue?
In one sense, any worker is at risk of suffering from fatigue at work and therefore the negative effects of fatigue.
However, workers who work irregular and extended shifts are at an elevated risk. These include healthcare workers, transportation workers, first responders, firefighters, police officers, military personnel, construction workers, oil field workers, service and hospitality workers, and many more.
Irregular and extended shifts are common among healthcare providers, transportation workers, first responders, firefighters, police officers, military personnel, construction workers, oil field workers, service and hospitality workers and many others.
How Can Fatigue Affect a Worker’s Health?
Fatigue is associated with the following health problems:
- Heart disease
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Reproductive disorders
- Poor eating habits and obesity
- Sleep disorders (sleep apnea, etc.)
- Some cancers
- Stomach and digestive problems
Fatigue can also make existing chronic health conditions worse, including illnesses like epilepsy and diabetes.
How Can Workers Combat Fatigue?
One of the most important things workers can do is get the healthy sleep they need on a regular basis.
- Sleep 7-9 hours a day with no interruptions. Don’t sleep for shorter periods and try to make it up on weekends.
- When possible, sleep at the same time every day. Get into a regular pattern.
- Don’t drink caffeinated drinks in the evening and/or before sleeping.
- Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet location.
- Don’t bring a cell phone or other mobile device into bed.
- Avoid watching TV in bed.
- If you take a nap, make sure the nap is shorter than 45 minutes or longer than 2 hours. This allows for a complete sleep/wake cycle.
- Exercise on a regular basis.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Keep a healthy weight.
- If you work evening or nights, be sure you’ve slept within the eight hours before you go to work.
- If you have trouble sleeping, see a doctor.
How Can Employers Help Reduce Worker Fatigue?
Employers can reduce the risk of worker fatigue in the workplace by:
- Inspect and correct staffing and scheduling issues that might contribute to worker fatigue. This includes overall workload, work hours, understaffing, and worker absence rates.
- Encourage a healthy work/life balance for your employees. Make them aware of the importance of this.
- Consider putting a Fatigue Risk Management Plan into effect.
What Is a Fatigue Risk Management Program?
As we’ve mentioned, fatigue creates risks at work. A fatigue risk management plan is just like any risk management effort–it’s designed to identify, assess, and treat risk. Please see our Risk Management Basics: Foundations of Risk Management article for more on risk management and download our free Risk-Based Techniques for Safety Management guide at the bottom of this article.
Model Fatigue Risk Management Programs
Try some of the resources below to use as models and resources while creating your own fatigue risk management program:
- FAA Fatigue Management Toolbox
- US Coast Guard Crew Endurance Management Practices Guide
- United States National Response Team Technical Assistance Document
- American Petroleum Institute’s Fatigue Prevention Guidelines for Personnel in the Refining and Petroleum Industries
- IPIECA’s Managing Fatigue in the Workplace
- American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s Fatigue Risk Management in the Workplace: 2012 Guidance Statement
For more on fatigue, check out our partner RedVector’s NSM contribution on Fighting Fatigue.
Please download our free Risk Management for Safety Management Guide below to help get started on creating your own fatigue risk management program.
Free Download–Guide to Risk-Based Safety Management
Download this free guide to using risk management for your occupational safety and health management program.