Fatigue is a critical, but often overlooked factor in workplace safety. The effects of sleep deprivation are well known and cited frequently when it comes to issues like drowsy driving. The recommended amount of sleep for most Americans is seven to nine hours every night. Anyone getting less than that is at increased risk for an accident. Research has shown that driving on only four to five hours sleep is the same as driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08.
The National Safety Council (NSC) launched a fatigue initiative in 2016 aimed at documenting the extent of the problem of tired workers. Next up is the launch of a fatigue calculator that employers can use to gauge the fatigue levels of their employees and the resulting safety risks.
In a survey of 2,000 workers by the NSC, 43 percent of them said they did not get enough sleep every day and 27 percent reported falling asleep at work within the past month. Another 16 percent admitted to having at least one near miss or safety incident due to fatigue. This presents a serious risk for workplace accidents – not only for the workers, but others as well. Fatigue is commonly a driving factor in transportation accidents, including truck accidents, train accidents, and bus accidents.
The NSC is pushing employers to offer sleep health programs to employees and have them screened for sleep disorders, 90 percent of which go untreated. Testing for sleep apnea and other conditions can reveal the source of fatigue for some workers and help them get treatment. Fatigue is often overlooked when it comes to workplace safety programs because it is hard to define the moment when it sets in.
Changing the Culture at Work
Pushing employers to get on the sleep bandwagon may prove difficult if the CEO is among those who see sleep deprivation as a badge of honor. For many years, high achieving executives have bragged about how little they sleep at night and considered it a factor for getting ahead in life. There is a school of thought that working late instead of sleeping will have a big pay off in the end.
But for those doing safety-critical jobs, fatigue is not an option. Lack of sleep impairs manual dexterity, impedes judgement, and reduces alertness. Some of the most devastating work accidents across the world, including the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, the Russian nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, and the Alaskan Exxon Valdez oil spill, were all fatigue-related.
Recognizing the Signs of Sleep Deficit
Another study about fatigue is being conducted at the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, New York, by the Illinois based American Society of Safety Engineers. The ongoing study is examining the worker’s perspective on fatigue and whether they recognize when they are tired at work. While not as obvious as other tangible safety hazards, fatigue is just as much of a risk. A worker may not recognize that they are tired, but if a manager does, they should intervene before the worker can put his or herself and other workers in a dangerous situation. Signs of sleep deficit may include irritability, an increase in mistakes at work, and increase in poor decision making, and sudden changes in appearance and/or hygiene.
Milford Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow Advocate for Those Injured in Work Accidents
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