Emma Anderson commutes an hour from her home to start her rotational shift which begins at 5 a.m. this week; she’s employed at a factory where, for a 10-hour stretch at a time (plus overtime on a regular basis), she assembles components on high-end toys using small precision tools—until it’s time to clock out and race off to pick up her baby from the sitter. This perfect storm of life overload means Emma is chronically fatigued, which she realizes when she nods off at her station and slices her hand down to the bone with a sharp-edged tool, triggering a Workers Compensation insurance claim.
Emma’s story represents the 22% of respondents in a recent survey on workplace fatigue conducted by the National Safety Council who reported they work in a safety-critical industry. And sadly, Emma’s not alone, as the NSC’s survey found that nearly every employee surveyed had at least one risk factor for fatigue. In this, the third installment of a three-part series on the effects of fatigue in the workplace, we examine how employers can look for signs of fatigue among their employees and foster an environment that encourages well-rested, safety-conscious workers.
Spot the Early Warning Signs
Even a little sleep deprivation goes a long way toward creating impairment that can actually rival alcohol intoxication. A study found that losing just two hours out of a regular eight-hour sleep cycle can result in a person performing akin to someone who has consumed two to three beers. Sleep-deprived employees report a variety of symptoms which serve as warning signs of growing fatigue, including:
- Feeling tired at work
- Having difficulty making decisions
- Feeling less productive than usual
- Reduced attention span
- Having difficulty with memory
- Having difficulty concentrating on the task at hand
- Falling into “microsleep” (when one’s head nods and the eyelids droop), a point at which employees have likely been working in a less effective and possibly unsafe capacity
When the above occurs, workers have reached the point where they pose an increased safety risk. This is the time when near-misses or safety incidents are more likely to occur. And should a worker be behind the wheel of a car while in a fatigued state, studies show that the level of impairment is on par with drunk driving.
Employers Can Encourage Safety
Employers can fight fatigue in the workplace by bringing awareness to the table on many levels: They can distribute flyers and newsletters and hang posters about the dangers of fatigue; make the dangers of fatigue a main topic of discussion in safety programs, and offer frequent incentives for workers to be well rested. Examples could be anything from t-shirts and hats to coffee mugs, lottery tickets, preferred parking, or even some extra time off—all items that won’t bust an employer’s budget.
Employers should also consider adopting fatigue-fighting practices. Mandatory rest breaks; a limit on long shifts and overtime; longer shift recovery times; and forward-rotating shifts are a good place to begin. RPS provides quality Workers Compensation coverage and can assist with obtaining coverage to address your clients’ needs. Contact us for more information.
Source: National Safety Council, Fatigue in the Workplace, June 2018.