Workplace safety includes consideration of long work hours, swing shifts, and other rotating schedules that have an impact on worker fatigue. According to OSHA, almost 15 million American workers have full-time jobs that require evening, night, rotating or other irregular shifts that contributes to worker fatigue.
It is the employer’s responsibility to provide employees who are working very long shifts adequate breaks and rest time between shifts. It is a manager’s responsibility to recognize when their workers are displaying symptoms of fatigue to avoid injuries and costly damage. Recent news about the prevalence of fatigue in the workplace makes now the right time to discuss how to recognize fatigue and what to do about it.
“Fatigue causes 13% of accidents in the workplace”
The Dangers of Fatigue in the Workplace
Fatigue has a direct effect on the workforce. Fatigue affects employees’ memory, balance, concentration, decision-making, and motor skills. Research shows 13% of workplace injuries can be attributed to fatigue, a dangerous byproduct of a society that operates 24 hours a day. In the long term, persistent fatigue and lack of proper sleep can lead to poor employee health, potentially increasing the incidence or severity of issues like diabetes and heart disease.
Employees often feel the effects of a lack of rest when they commute back and forth to work. Reduced alertness and reaction time both negatively influence driver performance and put workers at risk as they travel to and from job sites each day.
The frequency with which fatigue occurs in the workplace must be recognized to craft an effective solution. Businesses, alongside the managers, supervisors and EHS specialists that address safety issues, need to look at this as a broad-based problem that could lead to negative consequences at nearly any workplace.
Signs of Workplace Fatigue
Fatigue presents unique challenges for companies, but recognizing the signs of fatigue can help managers to keep employees safe. Here are seven signs of fatigue:
- Irritability – A negative mood is one way our body tells us it needs more rest. We may not even realize we are irritable or feel moody. If a worker is feeling sad, anxious or irritable – chances are their body is telling them that they need more rest.
- Reduced alertness – When a person is tired, it’s not uncommon for them to experience lapses in concentration and alertness. Tired workers are not able to process information as quickly or accurately and may have difficulty focusing on a single task. This can affect their ability to perform tasks with precision and accuracy needed for complex jobs.
- Tiredness or weariness – When you observe a worker who looks “sleepy”, it could be an indication of fatigue. This individual may also excessively yawn, feel lethargic, and find it difficult to follow a conversation. Additionally, you might also notice confusion in their response to questions or commands.
- Lack of motivation – Employees who appear to suddenly lack motivation to do their job (and do it well) may seem uninspired or lazy, but this is generally a sign of broader issues, including fatigue.
- Increased mistakes – When you observe a worker making more mistakes, it’s a sign that they’re not attentive to their job. A surge in mistakes and errors could be due to fatigue or a failure to get enough sleep each night.
- Headaches – Headaches are a sign of fatigue, but they can also be a sign of dehydration. Before deciding it is fatigue, make sure all workers are adequately hydrated on the job, even when it is not hot outside.
- Increased sickness – Workers who are suddenly taking more time off due to illness may be experiencing fatigue. Insufficient sleep wears the body down and affects a person’s ability to fight colds, flu, and other illnesses. With an increase in fatigue, it’s not uncommon to see a rise in absenteeism. Fatigued workers may also be at a higher risk of becoming sick from viruses they might contract at work.
“Discussing the need for sleep is an important part of addressing workplace fatigue.”
How to Manage Stress and Fatigue in the Workplace
While there is no one solution, there are common strategies employers can use to reduce the hazards of worker fatigue. For example, having enough workers to avoid long stretches of regular overtime can mitigate one of the major causes of exhaustion for employees. Similarly, businesses should give employees adequate time between shifts to get proper rest.
Awareness and education both play major roles in helping workers manage their work-rest schedule to encourage a healthier lifestyle. Employers should consider implementing a Fatigue Risk Management Plan under which, like other risk factors, fatigue can be managed. Providing training to workers about the importance of sleep and tips for getting proper rest can encourage employees to be proactive about sleep, diet, exercise and stress management.
Additionally, OSHA cites other ways employers can manage stress and fatigue in the workplace, such as:
- 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.
- Adjusting the work environment such as lighting, temperature and physical surroundings to increase alertness.
- Creating a culture of safety with clear coordination and communication between management and workers. This can include establishing a Fatigue Risk Management Plan or strategies for fatigue mitigation on the job.
Education and prevention of workplace fatigue can help to create a safer work environment for everyone. Need help developing your Fatigue Risk Management Plan? Total Safety is ready to help with on-site evaluations, training programs, and more. Learn more about how we can help you to ensure the safe wellbeing of your workforce.