Nearly seven out of ten employees surveyed by the National Safety Council report feeling tired at work.
The percentages of fatigued workers are also significant among safety-sensitive industries:
- Utilities 45%
- Manufacturing 63%
- Construction 65%, and
- Transportation 70%.
The findings are included in the NSC report, Fatigue in Safety-Critical Industries: Impact, Risks & Recommendations.
Half of all employers surveyed by the NSC say they’ve witnessed finding employees asleep on the job. (Employers may be reporting a single incident of falling asleep on the job and not necessarily during a safety-critical moment.) The breakdown by industry:
- Utilities 41%
- Manufacturing 55%
- Construction 61%, and
- Transportation 38%.
The NSC identified nine risk factors for fatigue. Ninety-seven percent of all workers had one risk factor, and 80% had two or more. Some risk factors were more prevalent than others:
- demanding job 81%
- sleep loss 43%
- high-risk hours (night or early morning) 41%
- long commutes 31%
- long weeks 22%
- long shifts (10 hours or more) 21%
- shift work 17%
- quick shift returns 14%, and
- no rest breaks 10%.
What can employers do?
The NSC recommends employers use fatigue risk management systems to reduce the impact on tired employees. FRMSs include policies, practices, programs and procedures that incorporate fatigue management into an existing safety management system.
One of the most difficult areas to address is workplace culture because it requires a change in perspective rather than in policy, according to the NSC.
Employers need to let employees know that fatigue has been identified as an unacceptable risk. The NSC recommends companies:
- have an open dialogue about fatigue as a workplace safety hazard
- give short safety talks about fatigue, and
- have HR and safety pros discuss the importance of sleep health including how to get screened for a sleep disorder.
Other fatigue-mitigating changes recommended by the NSC:
- schedule employees for less than 10 hours a day and less than 50 hours per week
- schedule night shift employees for no more than four days in a row
- rotate shifts forward (day to evening to night)
- allow recovery rest before a shift change
- schedule rest breaks during all shifts
- provide a place for short naps during night shifts
- create a fatigue reporting system for employees who are too tired to work safely
- educate employees on fatigue and sleep health, and
- add sleep disorder screening and treatment to the healthcare plan.