Thursday, July 11, 2024

Fatigue In The Workplace Safety

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Increased Incidence Of Injuries

Fatigue in the Workplace – Safety Training Video – Safetycare Fatigue at Work free preview

The stats say it all. Compared to day shifts, accident and injury rates are 18 percent higher during evening shifts and 30 percent higher during night shifts. Research also shows that those who work 12 hours per day have a 37 percent higher risk of injury than those who work fewer hours. And the hazard risk continues even after work ends: a 2005 study of medical residents found that every extended shift scheduled in a month increased the monthly risk of a vehicle crash on the way home by 16.2 percent.

This increase in accidents and injuries often results from a perfect storm of factors, including reduced alertness, lower concentration, and impaired motor skills. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that workers who go 17 to 19 hours without sleep dont just exhibit impaired performance levels, but have response speeds that are half as slow as well-rested workers. These fatigued workers also had worse hand-eye coordination, depth perception, and balance. This is particularly dangerous for those who work at height, use power tools, or operate heavy machinery.

Proactively Addressing Worker Fatigue

Employees certainly play a role in preventing fatigue and some of the causes go beyond the workplace, but there are still a number of things employers can do to reduce fatigue at work. An effective approach to fatigue risk management should involve some or all of the following:

  • Shift scheduling: consistent schedules, frequent breaks, two consecutive days off each week, and no more than four night shifts in a row
  • Balancing workloads and staffing
  • Reporting system for fatigue-related incidents
  • Workplace design: cool atmosphere, low humidity, plenty of natural light, minimal noise and vibrations
  • Employee training on fatigue and managing sleep disorders
  • Supervisor and management training on monitoring and identifying fatigue in workers
  • Offering an insurance plan that covers sleep disorders

Fatigue In The Workplace

Excessively long working hours and poorly planned shift work can result in workers’ fatigue. Poor work schedules where there are inadequate rest breaks can also accelerate the onset of fatigue in the workplace, especially when the work is demanding.

Fatigue at work can affect your

  • Alertness
  • Motor skills
  • Reflexes

These can lead to an increased risk of workplace accidents and near-miss incidents, endangering yourself at the workplace.

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Why Is Fatigue Important

More than 3.5 million people are employed as shift workers in the UK. They work in a wide variety of industries including the emergency services, healthcare, the utilities, transport, manufacturing , entertainment and retail. Poorly designed shift-working arrangements and long working hours that do not balance the demands of work with time for rest and recovery can result in fatigue, accidents, injuries and ill health.

Fatigue refers to the issues that arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is generally considered to be a decline in mental and/or physical performance that results from prolonged exertion, sleep loss and/or disruption of the internal clock. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.

Fatigue results in slower reactions, reduced ability to process information, memory lapses, absent-mindedness, decreased awareness, lack of attention, underestimation of risk, reduced coordination etc. Fatigue can lead to errors and accidents, ill-health and injury, and reduced productivity. It is often a root cause of major accidents eg Herald of Free Enterprise, Chernobyl, Texas City, Clapham Junction, Challenger and Exxon Valdez.

Fatigue has also been implicated in 20% of accidents on major roads and is said to cost the UK £115 – £240 million per year in terms of work accidents alone.

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.

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What Can Employers Do

Whilst it predominantly relates to shift work, HSG256 sets out a number of principles and suggested approaches for dealing with fatigue, and how to carry out risk assessments to help inform management tools, that can be translated across all sectors and types of work.

It includes tables outlining how different elements of a shift-work schedule and/or workplace environment might contribute to fatigue, and gives advice as to how such risks can be controlled. It also puts forward a number of good practice guidelines, such as those outlined in the table below. Shift can be substituted with working day , where relevant, to broaden the application of the principles to other work types:

Further guidance is also available on how to carry out fatigue risk assessments such as by using the HSEs own Fatigue and Risk Index Tool, or a useful approach has been set out by the Energy Institute into how to develop a Fatigue Risk Management Plan. Depending on how great a risk fatigue is to the organisation, it may be worth considering whether such tools should be introduced and utilised to help manage the risk.

HSG256 para 29

see RR446 for the research behind this and how to adopt the indexing approach:

Managing Fatigue Using a Fatigue Risk Management Plan 1 April 2014, Energy Institute.

Companies Are Asleep At The Wheelin More Ways Than One

Cleary, companies should be committed to solving fatigue and sleep deprivationand most already are. Still, the NSCs report reveals that most employers underestimate the prevalence of fatigue in the workforce and do not communicate with employees about fatigue. Many also believe their workers would not be comfortable admitting they are too tired to perform their job safely.

Contrary behavior, wishful thinking, and willful denial around fatigue are not exclusive to employers. Employees frequently work against their own health and safety:

  • 43% of employees get less than 7 hours of sleep per night, although 94% know that more is optimal.
  • 64% of employees believe that rolling down a vehicles windows can prevent drowsy driving.
  • 67% of employees who moonlight know working 50-plus hours per week contributes to sleep deprivationand do it anyway.

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Key Principles In Fatigue

  • Fatigue needs to be managed, like any other hazard.
  • It is important not to underestimate the risks of fatigue. For example, the incidence of accidents and injuries has been found to be higher on night shifts, after a succession of shifts, when shifts are long and when there are inadequate breaks.
  • The legal duty is on employers to manage risks from fatigue, irrespective of any individual’s willingness to work extra hours or preference for certain shift patterns for social reasons. Compliance with the Working Time Regulations alone is insufficient to manage the risks of fatigue.
  • Changes to working hours need to be risk assessed. The key considerations should be the principles contained in HSE’s guidance. Risk assessment may include the use of tools such as HSE’s ‘fatigue risk index’.
  • Employees should be consulted on working hours and shift patterns. However, note that employees may prefer certain shift patterns that are unhealthy and likely to cause fatigue.
  • Develop a policy that specifically addresses and sets limits on working hours, overtime and shift-swapping, and which guards against fatigue.
  • Implement the policy and make arrangements to monitor and enforce it. This may include developing a robust system of recording working hours, overtime, shift-swapping and on-call working.
  • Problems with overtime and shift-swapping may indicate inadequate resource allocation and staffing levels.
  • What Workers And Employers Can Do To Manage Workplace Fatigue During Covid

    Fatigue in the Workplace

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides resources to assist employers and workers identify COVID-19 exposure risks and help them take appropriate steps to prevent exposure and infection. See the OSHA Coronavirus Disease topic pageexternal icon for the most current requirements, guidance, and tools.

    The coronavirus disease pandemic has touched all aspects of society including how we work. Emergency responders, health care workers, and others providing essential services to the community have been especially stretched thin, working longer hours than usual, working more shifts or even over-night, and leaving less time to sleep and recharge.

    Under regular circumstances, adults need 79 hours of sleep per night, along with opportunities for rest while awake, optimal health, and well-being. Long work hours and shift work, combined with stressful or physically demanding work, can lead to poor sleep and extreme fatigue. Fatigue increases the risk for injury and deteriorating health .

    While there is no one solution to fit everyones needs, here are some general strategies that workers and employers can use to manage workplace fatigue and work safely.

    Recognize these are stressful and unusual circumstances and you may need more sleep or time to recover.

    Tips to improve sleep:

  • Take naps when you have the opportunity.
  • A 90-minute nap before working a night shift can help prevent you from feeling tired at work.
  • Dont drink caffeine within 5 hours of bedtime.
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    Factors In The Work Environment

    The environment and nature of the work can further magnify the effects of sleep debt and circadian rhythms. Environments with dim lighting, limited visual acuity , high temperatures, high noise and high comfort tend to enhance fatigue. Also, a workers susceptibility to fatigue is increased by tasks where attention must be sustained for long period, and those which are long, repetitive, paced, difficult, boring and monotonous.

    What Are Some Tips For Good Eating Habits That Help Encourage Sleep

    The Dietitians of Canada have made the following recommendations:

    Establish Regular Eating Times

    Our bodies need energy provided by food to be able to perform our daily activities. Having meals at regular times is important to function at our best. If you tend to skip meals or eat at irregular times, you may experience fatigue, food cravings or increased eating at the next meal. Aim to have at least three meals a day including a variety of foods as described in Canada’s Food Guide. If working night shifts, try to have your âmain mealâ before going to work. A heavy meal during the night may cause heartburn, gas or constipation, as well as make you feel sleepy or sluggish.

    Snack Ideas for Your Work Break

    Having snacks in between meals is a great way to keep us nourished and give us the energy we need to complete our work shifts. At breaks, opt for healthy snacks that include combinations from a variety of foods from the four food groups. Here are some ideas:

    • crackers or fruit and cheese
    • social tea cookies and milk
    • yogurt and a small low fat muffin
    • celery sticks with peanut butter
    • baby carrots with low fat cream cheese dip
    • cut up fresh fruit or have nuts mixed with plain yogurt

    Check your Caffeine Intake

    Excessive intake of caffeine can cause insomnia, headaches, irritability and nervousness. It is recommended that foods containing caffeine should not be consumed up to 8 hours before sleeping.

    Common caffeine sources include:

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    Not Just Feeling Drowsy

    Fatigue is more than just feeling a little drowsy. Its a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion which reduces your ability to remain alert and adversely affects your capacity to do your work safely and effectively. It can occur because of prolonged mental or physical activity, sleep loss and/or disruption of the internal body clock.

    Both work and non-work related factors or a combination of both can cause fatigue, which can also accumulate over time.

    Fatigue In The Workplace Statistics

    Graphic Safety Training Posters
    • Fatigue carries an overall estimated cost of more than $136 billion per year to employers in health-related lost productivity.
    • 1 in every 5 workers is sleep deprived.
    • Poor sleeping habits lead to stress on the job.
    • In a survey by Caremark Rx Inc. of 29,000 adults, 38% reported feeling tired at work in the last two weeks.

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    Association Of Fatigue With Work Output Error And Accidents

    Fatigue affects everyone regardless of skill, knowledge, and training. It has influences directly on many people’s physical and mental abilities needed to carry out even simple task. The most important effects of fatigue including decreased task motivation, longer reaction time, reduction of alertness, impaired concentration, poorer psychometric coordination, problems in memory and information processing, and poor judgment. It is estimated that fatigue workers in workplace is costing more than 18 billion $ a year in US.

    Also, a fatigue people have a poor communication with surrounding environment and more quickly becomes angry towards other people. Therefore, a fatigue worker is potentially dangerous to themselves and others, and the highest rate of catastrophic incidents is usually found among fatigue shift workers. For example, some of the most serious accidents in recent 3decades have been attributed to the shift worker’s fatigue. The world’s worst nuclear power accident occurred at Chernobyl on April 25, 1986 at 1:23 am. The accidents at Three Mile Island, the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez, all occurred between midnight and 6 am. These accidents along with a great deal of transportation accidents in roads were raised from humans fatigue.

    Long Work Hours Extended Or Irregular Shifts And Worker Fatigue


    Long work hours and irregular work shifts are common in our society. Many American workers spend over 40 hours a week at work and almost 15 million work full time on evening, night, rotating or other irregular shifts. Work schedules like these may cause worker fatigue.

    Shift workers may be scheduled to work days, evenings, nights and/or on a rotating or on-call basis. They may work extended shifts , rotating or irregular shifts, or consecutive shifts resulting in more than the typical 40-hour work week. Long work hours may increase the risk of injuries and accidents and can contribute to poor health and worker fatigue. Studies show that long work hours can result in increased levels of stress, poor eating habits, lack of physical activity and illness. It is important to recognize the symptoms of worker fatigue and its potential impact on each worker’s safety and health and on the safety of co-workers.

    This web page focuses on worker fatigue and includes information about the impact of demanding work schedules and measures workers and employers can take to prevent worker fatigue and fatigue-related injuries and illnesses by providing or participating in education, training and fatigue management programs.

    Additional Information

    In Focus

    OSHA’s COVID-19 Safety and Health Topics page provides specific information about protecting workers from coronavirus during the ongoing outbreak.


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    How Can I Get A Better Sleep


    If you suspect you may have a medical condition that interferes with your sleep, go to your doctor and have any concerns investigated.

    Sleep Hygiene

    There is no one way to get a good sleep – what works for one person may not work for another. In general, suggestions include:

    • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Eat at regular intervals and consume a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and protein.
    • Use your bed primarily just for sleeping .
    • If you are not sleepy, do not try to go to bed. Get up and read or do something quiet instead.
    • Avoid caffeine, tobacco or alcohol – especially before bed time.
    • Turn off the phone ringer and answering device speaker or phone notification.
    • Ask family members to be respectful if one person is sleeping. Family members can use headphones for the TV and radio if necessary.
    • Make the room as dark and quiet as possible. Use heavy, dark curtains, blinds, or a sleeping eye mask. Soundproof the room where possible or use ear plugs.
    • Most people sleep better when the room is cool. Consider using an air conditioner or fan in the summer months.

    How Do I Manage The Risks

    Fatigue in the Workplace

    Fatigue management is a shared responsibility between management and workers, as it involves factors both inside and outside of work.

    Preventing and managing fatigue-related risk in the workplace provides guidance on how to identify, manage and control fatigue, to make sure health and safety risks are avoided at work.

    For employers or persons conducting a business or undertaking , its your duty to use a risk management approach to manage fatigue, as outlined in theWork Health and Safety Act 2011.

    Following a four-step risk management process will help your business meet its responsibilities under work health and safety laws.

    You should read the information on this page together with Safe Work Australia’s Guide for managing the risk of fatigue at work and Fatigue management – a workers guide. These resources provide detailed steps on how to manage fatigue to make sure it doesnt contribute to health and safety risks in your place of work.

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    Ways Fatigue Harms The Workplace

    Safety pros know the impact fatigued employees create in the workplace. Heres 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Poor decision-making and risk taking. Studies show losing sleep can lead to riskier behavior. Employees may make impulsive decisions without realizing it.
  • 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.
  • Falling asleep on the job. This is the worst case scenario. Employees wont be able to respond to a hazard. This was the case in the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
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