While fatigue has been an ongoing safety problem, the coronavirus has made it even more problematic in critical industries remaining operational, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing tips on managing it during the pandemic.
Emergency responders, healthcare workers and employees at other essential industries working through the pandemic are stretched thin, having to work longer-than-usual hours with less time for sleeping.
Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night – with opportunities to do some resting while awake as well – to achieve optimal health, but long work hours, stress and physically demanding work can lead to poor sleep and extreme fatigue, according to the CDC.
Workplace fatigue increases the risk for injury and makes it easier to contract infections, illnesses and mental health disorders.
What workers can do
The CDC has tips for helping workers fight fatigue include:
- Sleeping in a comfortable, dark, cool and quiet room to get better quality sleep.
- Setting aside time before bedtime to help relax if it takes you longer than 15 minutes to fall asleep.
- “Banking your sleep” by sleeping several extra hours longer than normal before beginning to work a long stretch of shifts.
- Remembering it may take several days of extended sleep – like sleeping 10 hours instead of 8 – before you feel recovered after working a long stretch of shifts.
- Avoiding sunlight or bright lights for 90 minutes before going to sleep since exposure to light right before bedtime can make you feel more awake.
- Considering using blackout shades at home when sleeping during the day.
- Taking naps when you can do so.
- Eating healthy and stay active because it can improve the quality of your sleep.
- Before going to bed, avoiding foods and drinks that can make falling asleep difficult.
Workers who do begin to feel fatigue at work should:
- Use a buddy system to ensure everyone is coping with work hours and demands.
- Watch yourself and co-workers for signs of fatigue – such as yawning or difficulty keeping eyes open – and say something if you see it to help prevent injuries and errors.
- Check with your employer to see if there’s a formal fatigue program at the workplace.
- Report fatigue-related close-calls to management to help prevent injuries and errors.
- Report to a manager if you’re feeling too tired to work safely.
What employers can do
According to the CDC, some things employers should do include:
- Recognizing these are stressful and unusual circumstances and the risk for fatigue may be greater than usual.
- Creating a procedure that doesn’t punish workers for reporting when they or co-workers are too fatigued to work safely.
- Developing processes to relieve workers from their duties if they are too fatigued to work safely.
- Rotating workers through repetitive or strenuous tasks.
- Scheduling physically and mentally demanding work in shorter shifts where possible.
- Allowing staff enough time to take care of off-duty obligations while allowing them time for enough rest.