Safety

Fatigue in the Workplace

Fatigue is a potentially deadly problem that affects most Americans on the job. Construction is especially susceptible, according to the National Safety Council.
By Marla McIntyre
March 13, 2019
Topics
Safety

According to the National Safety Council, fatigue is a potentially deadly problem that affects most Americans on the job. It defines fatigue as “feelings of tiredness, sleepiness, reduced energy and increased effort needed to perform tasks at a desired level.”

To bring awareness to the problem, the National Safety Council released a three-part series of reports on fatigue:

  • Fatigue in the Workplace: Causes and Consequences of Employee Fatigue;
  • Fatigue in the Workplace: Risky Employer Practices; and
  • Fatigue in Safety-critical Industries: Impact, Risk and Recommendations.

Fatigue in the Workplace: Causes and Consequences of Employee Fatigue

The first report, Fatigue in the Workplace: Causes and Consequences of Employee Fatigue, cites causes of workplace fatigue. “Fatigue is cumulative and the result of inter-related factors. Sleep loss, time of day and time on tasks are three of the most common factors. In the workplace, fatigue can be causes by a myriad of factors, such as work schedules, environmental conditions and job demands.”

Consequences of workplace fatigue are:

  • reductions in cognitive performance, which causes decrease in vigilance, attention, memory, concentration and other cognitive factors;
  • microsleeps, small bursts of sleep often felt as head nods or drooping eyelids; and
  • increased safety risk of injuries.

Fatigue in the Workplace: Risky Employer Practices

The second report, Fatigue in the Workplace: Risky Employer Practices, includes data from the Employer Survey on Workplace Fatigue from 2017, which notes that sleep disorders are common but are frequently undiagnosed and untreated, resulting in missed work, lower productivity, increased health care costs, injuries and vehicle crashes. The report notes that an employer with 1,000 employees can expect to lose more than $1 million each year to fatigue.

NSC and Brigham and Women's Hospital developed the NSC Fatigue Cost Calculator, an online tool for estimating how much fatigue is costing their company. Users receive a tailored estimate of cost along with how much of the burden can be avoided by implementing programs in the workplace.

One way to establish a safety culture and reduce risk of fatigue are to ask:

  • Are workers tired? The report found that while 74 percent of employers believed only a minority of their workforce was at risk of fatigue, actually 80 percent of employees reported two or more risk factors of fatigue.
  • Is fatigue discussed in the workplace? A majority (73 percent) of employers do not talk about fatigue with employees, missing the opportunity to increase awareness of the safety and performance risks of fatigue.
  • Do employees feel comfortable reporting safety concerns due to fatigue? Only 27 percent of employers have a channel for employees to report being fatigued, thinking that employees would not be comfortable admitting they are too tired to perform their job safely.

The report recommends having an open dialog about fatigue as a workplace safety hazard, providing rest breaks and learning more about risk factors of fatigue and its risk factors.

Fatigue in Safety-critical Industries: Impact, Risk and Recommendations

Part III, Fatigue in Safety-critical Industries: Impact, Risk and Recommendations, offers more data from a 2017 employee/employer survey, which covered safety-critical industries including construction, manufacturing, transportation and utilities. The survey found that while 93 percent of all employers think fatigue is a safety issue, only 72 percent of employees agree.

Construction employees reported at least one risk factor for fatigue with 46 percent saying they worked during high risk hours and 77 percent saying they have demanding jobs.

“Safety-critical industries have higher risks because the impact of fatigue is more than just lower productivity. Safety incidents endanger not only the employees involved but all those around them. In addition, increased health care costs lawsuits, breach-of-contract issues and lost business are just a few of the significant financial costs of fatigue that organizations may experience,” according to the report.

The report suggests employers have an open dialogue about fatigue as a workplace safety hazard, include the topic in safety talks and have HR or health case representative discuss the importance of sleep health, how to sleep better and how to get screened for a sleep disorder.

“An effective and comprehensive safety management system should recognize and address fatigue as a potential hazard in the workplace. The best way to identify fatigue risk is to conduct an assessment and include fatigue factors in incident reporting. Identifying and addressing factors that cause fatigue allow employers to better control health and safety risks…Fatigue risk management systems include policies, practices, programs and procedures that incorporated fatigue management in to an existing safety management system,” the report concluded.

by Marla McIntyre

Marla McIntyre is a digital editor of CE This Week and ConstructionExec.com. She edited Construction Executive’s Tech Trends and Risk Management eNewsletters and is the author of more than 200 articles and publications, including Construction Executive’s annual technology predictions, Technology & Software Rundown column and an award-winning series for the Risk Management Association. Her extensive construction and risk management background includes stints as executive director the Surety Information Office and American Subcontractors Association of Metro Washington.



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