Safety and OSHA News

10 ways fatigue harms the workplace

Safety pros know the impact fatigued employees create in the workplace. Here’s a reminder of how big that impact can be. 

Safety training provider, the American Safety Council, has compiled a list of 10 Dangers for Tired Workers, based on research and investigations regarding employee fatigue:

  1. Improper safety enforcement and major injury. Major industrial incidents have been linked to sleep deprivation, including the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island nuclear disasters. An investigation showed that some workers at a BP refinery in Texas where an explosion led to the death of 15 workers had worked 12 hours a day for nearly 30 days in a row.
  2. Impaired motor skills. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found 17 to 19 hours without sleep has the same effect as a 0.05% blood alcohol level. Employee response times can be cut in half, much like when someone is intoxicated.
  3. Poor decision-making and risk taking. Studies show losing sleep can lead to riskier behavior. Employees may make impulsive decisions without realizing it.
  4. Poor memory and information processing. Being tired can make it difficult to focus and retain new information. Slow cognitive function can be particularly problematic in jobs that require strong problem-solving skills.
  5. Falling asleep on the job. This is the worst case scenario. Employees won’t be able to respond to a hazard. This was the case in the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
  6. Special risk for shift workers. Fatigued workers are most susceptible to accidents between midnight and 8 a.m. Long and rotating shifts pose a greater health concern than a traditional, eight-hour shift.
  7. Inability to deal with stress. Getting less than seven to eight hours of sleep per night can have lasting effects on mood and stress levels. Personal issues have been cited as a primary or secondary cause for industrial accidents.
  8. Sleep deprivation reduces productivity. The U.S. loses $136.4 in productivity each year due to sleep deprivation. As work hours increase, output decreases.
  9. Sleep deprivation impacts workers in the long-term. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, worsening of diabetes, heart disease, digestion problems, depression, some cancers, reproductive problems and sleep disorders. Fatigue also reduces immunity against viruses, increasing the likelihood that a cold or flu will spread.
  10. Overlooking signs of fatigued workers. There are no specific safety regulations for extended work shifts in general industry, although there are some in industries such as transportation. The American Safety Council says the lack of regulations can lead to lack of discussion with employees about the issues involving fatigue.

While you may not be able to tuck your employees in to bed, you can provide training about the hazards of fatigue and offer them helpful sleep tips:

  • Go to sleep at the same time every night.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine several hours before sleep.
  • Limit naps to make sure you are tired at bedtime.
  • Wind down before bed. Stop using electronic devices at least an hour before going to sleep.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress, in a dark, cool room.
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