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Fatigue Risk Management In The Workplace

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Fatigue Risk Management Strategy For Employee Productivity

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Fatigue is becoming a major concern for organizations and employees. It affects employees ability to think clearly, impacts short-term memory and decreases attention and vigilance. Tired employees are less productive. A well-planned fatigue risk management strategy will increase employee productivity and reduce the risks of fatigue-related errors and accidents.

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Is Fatigue A Workplace Issue

Everyone should be concerned about the impact of fatigue as it can be considered a form of impairment, making fatigue a workplace hazard. However, fatigue levels are not easily measured or quantified therefore, it is difficult to isolate the effect of fatigue on incident and injury rates.

Workplace factors that may influence fatigue are shift rotation patterns, balanced workloads, timing of tasks and activities, availability of resources, and the workplace environment .

However, be sure to consider other factors beyond a lack of sleep including mental fatigue, such as mental workloads, demanding mental activities or stress, long periods of anxiety, or long periods of monotonous tasks, etc.

Many studies focus on the amount of sleep required. Some research studies have shown that when workers have slept for less than 5 hours before work or when workers have been awake for more than 16 hours, their chance of making mistakes at work due to fatigue are significantly increased.

Research has shown that the number of hours awake can be similar to blood alcohol levels. One study reports the following:

  • 17 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.05
  • 21 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.08
  • 24-25 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.10
  • reducing mental and physical functioning,
  • impairing judgement and concentration,
  • insomnia
  • restless legs syndrome
  • narcolepsy

Physical Mental And Emotional Demands Of Work

Table 3 in the full PDF document provides an overview of measures that can be used to address the risks associated with the physical, mental and emotional demands of work. These are listed in the order of the hierarchy of control, with controls to eliminate risks at the top. These controls should be considered first, before considering other options.

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What Is Fatigue Management

Fatigue management is the name given to the conscious efforts associated with managing fatigue. As we touched on before, fatigue management can involve proactive actions and activities which seek to prevent fatigue from occurring, as well as reactive procedures which seek to reduce the impact of fatigue once it has been identified.

Fatigue management isn’t just the responsibility of a company or organisation. Workers play a huge role in fatigue management, by living a healthy and functional life outside of work which enables them to come to work alert and ready to perform at the expected level.

Fatigue management is an ongoing endeavour, with an ever-evolving world constantly introducing new ‘spanners’ which can increase fatigue, including mobile phones and Netflix.

Workplace Effects Of Fatigue Impairment

Fatigue in the Workplace

Fatigue reduces a persons ability to work safely and effectively, and increases the risk of injury when workplace hazards are present.

Fatigue can influence us in many ways. Fatigue reduces:

  • Alertness and vigilance
  • Reaction time and the ability to react appropriately
  • Memory and recall
  • Ability to make effective and/or quick decisions
  • Information processing

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Key Recommendations For A Fatigue Risk Management Plan

Workplace Safety Culture:

Organizations now are recognizing that long days and overly tasked employees do not produce productive results, but instead, it affects employees health and safety. Understanding the limitations and recognizing fatigue as a hazard in the workplace is the first step to manage risks.

Rest Breaks:

Organizations can show their concern for worker fatigue by providing areas to employees for rest breaks and encouraging short breaks during their shifts. In addition, workplaces with night shifts should provide space and opportunities for short naps.

Fatigue Education:

Organizations can show concern for their employee health and fatigue by educating them about the risk factors for fatigue in the workplace. In addition, organizations can provide employees with opportunities for sleep disorder assessments.

Science-based Scheduling Practices:

Science-based policies that manage short and long-term work and rest periods are critical for managing fatigue within an organization. It is recommended to develop policies that are consistent with the latest scientific information on the body clock. It will enable business managers to establish limits on daily and weekly work hours and recovery rest periods.

Shorter Breaks:

Predictable Schedules:

Overtime Policies:

Limited On-call Periods:

Policies should be established and business managers should take responsibility to reduce on-call work periods and provide advance notice if necessary.

Monitoring and Assessment

Interaction With Other Hazards

When taking a risk management approach to fatigue, it is very important to consider how fatigue might interact with other workplace hazards. The level of risk associated with some hazards, such as manual tasks and exposure to hazardous chemicals, dust, and noise, may increase when working extended hours.

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What Is Workplace Fatigue

Workplace fatigue is not simply a measure of how long your workers have been sleep-deprived.

Instead, a definition of workplace fatigue that is conducive to effective management will recognize the influence of other factors such as: the health status of your workers the heat and noise levels in your workplace the number of consecutive night-shifts worked, etc.

Here is another way to envision the factors behind workplace fatigue. It is important to consider these factors in determining the fatigue risk that your workers may be subject to:

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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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How Is Fatigue Detected

Understanding the progression of fatigue helps us see why it is so important to focus on measurement before management. While we expect employees to arrive at work at full alertness level, as many employees do, this optimal condition doesnt always happen and may not actually be possible for all workers.

At moderate alertness levels, fatigue begins to negatively impact certain aspects of worker performance.

At reduced alertness levels, fatigue has detrimental effects on worker productivity and safety.

Unfortunately, it is not until the point of failure where fatigue has caused or contributed to an incident or a near miss that we tend to focus on solutions, controls, or other ways to manage fatigue risk.

Each of these factors is quantifiable and able to be measured in our attempt to manage fatigue in the workplace:

  • De-synchronization of sleep/work cycle with circadian rhythm: Trying to work when the body is in a sleep cycle or trying to sleep when the body is in an active cycle
  • The build-up of sleep debt over sequential shifts: Insufficient sleep between shifts to completely reset sleep debt
  • Total hours/shifts worked: Moving the circadian cycle backward increases fatigue risk the insufficient time between shift patternchanges

The 2nd Step To Fatigue Risk Management: Measurement

Sometimes, it may be easy to recognize fatigue.

For example, when you find a worker asleep on the job or do a root cause post-incident analysis and find that the operator involved in the incident had been at the end of a 12-hour night shift on his 4th consecutive night shift.

A more important yet more difficult challenge is to recognize fatigue before it leads to an incident or before someone falls asleep.

This requires looking beyond objective factors like shift-length and sleep hours and assessing the involvement of more subjective causes of fatigue such as:

  • an employees private commitments
  • sleeping or eating habits
  • other individual characteristics.

Supervisors who are too busy to measure the significance of subjective fatigue risk factors on their workers can use technology to do so. A non-invasive 60-second test, the AlertMeter® notifies a supervisor when a worker may be cognitively impaired and needs attention. The conversation that ensues is quick and painless and contributes to better safety communication, better relationships, and a more positive safety culture.

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The 3rd Step To Fatigue Risk Management: Management

After educating ourselves on the multitude of factors that could cause or contribute to fatigue, and realizing how important it is to measure or detect fatigue, companies can move toward proactively managing or applying countermeasures to fatigue risk in the workplace.

Managing fatigue presents 3 primary challenges:

  • First, there is no objective, standard definition of fatigue until the point of failure.
  • Second, fatigue is a non-static variable, making it difficult to measure.
  • And third, a majority of behaviors impacting fatigue are not work-related and occur outside of the workplace.
  • We can think of fatigue as an input variable in the organizations workstream:

    • Fatigue impacts the quality of an organization and its results
    • It is inherent within all human resources
    • It impacts worker health, often leading to absenteeism and contributing to workplace accidents.

    Using Cost of Quality concepts, we can apply a Quality Improvement Model:

    The Cost of Quality is a business model that shows how continuous improvement efforts reduce future costs.

    Larger investments in prevention end up driving even larger savings in quality-related failures down the road.

    The 1-10-100 Rule is a business efficiency model that can be used in qualitative analysis. Basically, it looks at the cost of prevention compared to the costs of correction, compared to the costs at our after a point of failure.

    How Much Sleep Do People Need

    Fatigue risk management with bowties

    It varies, but on average studies say we need at least 7 to 9 hours every day. Studies have reported that most night shift workers get about 5 to 7 hours less sleep per week than the day shift. Humans follow an “internal” or “biological clock” cycle of sleep, wakefulness, and alertness. Although these circadian rhythms are influenced by external clues such as the sun setting and rising, it is the brain that sets your pattern. Most cycles are 23-25 hours long and there are natural dips or periods when you feel tired or less alert – even for those who are well-rested.

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    Naps During Night Shifts

    Napping as a fatigue countermeasure has been found to be effective for shift workers. Many researches showed that short naps improve both of the mood and performance. Also, it was found that a 30 min nap in subjects with normal sleep and who had a night of restricted sleep decrease sleepiness and increase subjective alertness. The positive effects of naps depending on many issues including timing of the nap, nap length, and severity of sleep inertia following a nap.

    Field studies have shown that even a brief sleep episode can improve performance for several hours following the nap. The longer and later napping is better to sustain early morning performance and improve workplace safety. However, if there is a limitation for napping time, it is suggested that approximately 90120 min of a single sleep cycle sleep) is the most effective. Also, naps with 30 min in length or less provide measurable improvement in alertness and performance and decrease fatigue immediately upon waking.

    What Is The Circadian Rhythm

    One of the major factors contributing to worker fatigue particularly related to shift-work is the disruption of the circadian rhythm. The human biological system operates on an internal clock in which different functions run on different cycle lengths. The circadian rhythm, for example, is a rhythm that cycles approximately every 24 hours, with various functions either rising or falling at various times throughout the 24-hour period.

    For example, high body temperature and heart rate are associated with increased alertness and performance and occur during daylight hours. Sleep, on the other hand, is associated with a lowering of body temperature, heart rate, and cortisol, which decrease in the evening, then rise in the morning before we awaken.

    The physiological tendency to sleep at night and to be awake during the day is powerful difficulties occur when work-time arrangements cause individuals to work against this tendency. Altering the normal sleep/wake cycle affects both the ability to remain alert and the ability to sleep. Non-traditional work hours create a misalignment between the internal clock on the normal activity and sleep schedule.

    Shift workers circadian rhythm is out of step with the environment, and no matter how hard they try, they will always struggle to adjust to new work-and-rest schedules.

    These shift assessments measure the impact of factors like:

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    Managing Fatigue In The Workplace

    Given the inherent risks of upstream operations, fatigue is increasingly being recognised as a potential contributor to safety and other incidents.

    On this page youll find several resources to help you manage fatigue in your workplace, such as guidance to set-up a fatigue risk management system, launch awareness campaigns and links to specialist information.

    The Best Fatigue Management Strategies

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    There are many different kinds of fatigue management strategies, but we will looking at some of the more holistic and broadly applicable strategies you can think about, discuss and hopefully implement.

    None of these fatigue management strategies are silver bullets, and a combination of all of them is likely to be the best overall strategy for dealing with fatigue in the workplace.

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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.

    Fatigue Risk Management Planning

    Managing fatigue within the workplace can be challenging as an employer or manager, it is hard to manage the external factors that can contribute to an employees fatigue levels.

    Factors such as poor sleep, diet and lifestyle are all key contributors and causes of fatigue, all of which are solely controlled by the person themselves. As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that fatigue levels are not negatively impacted by an employees workload. It is therefore recommended that employers seek to implement a Fatigue Risk Management Plan.

    A Fatigue Risk Management Plan is a key control document that details the principal causes of fatigue within your workforce, the controls for dealing with the fatigue and the mechanisms for keeping your workforce safe. A Fatigue Risk Management Plan must be developed based on the size, sector and operation of your organisation.

    Common features to consider within a Fatigue Risk Management Plan include:

  • Purpose of the Document: At the start of the plan, a clear statement detailing why the plan is in place and the purpose of it. This will demonstrate your commitment to managing workplace fatigue and provide workers with a key point of contact.
  • Identification and Assessment of Risks: This section should document and detail all potential risks within the workplace which could contribute to the onset of fatigue. This will include how and where fatigue-related safety issues can occur and workers that are most at risk.
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    Long Work Hours Extended Or Irregular Shifts And Worker Fatigue

    Worker fatigue has been studied in aviation and other modes of transportation, the military, emergency response, healthcare, firefighting, law enforcement and other fields. There are several ways that workers and employers can help reduce the hazards of worker fatigue.

    What Can Employers Do?

    Employers can reduce the risk of worker fatigue in the workplace by:

    • Examining staffing issues such as workload, work hours, understaffing and worker absences, scheduled and unscheduled, which can contribute to worker fatigue.
    • Arranging schedules to allow frequent opportunities for rest breaks and nighttime sleep.
    • Making adjustments to the work environment such as lighting, temperature and physical surroundings to increase alertness.
    • Providing worker education and training addressing the hazards of worker fatigue, the symptoms of worker fatigue, the impact of fatigue on health and relationships, adequate quality and quantity of sleep and the importance of diet, exercise and stress management strategies to minimize the adverse effects of fatigue.
    • Consider implementing a Fatigue Risk Management Plan under which, like other risk factors, fatigue can be managed.
    What is a Fatigue Risk Management Program?

    The United States Coast Guard Crew Endurance Management Practices Guide outlines a program for controlling risk factors that affect crew member performance and shipboard safety in the commercial maritime industry.

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