Business owners are always striving to make and keep their workplaces free of accidents. It’s a multi-faceted issue that can stem from faulty equipment, problems with the facility, or human error. But no matter the cause of a workplace accident, in most cases it could have been prevented.
One of the most overlooked reasons for accidents is employee fatigue. Exhausted workers can’t focus on the job at hand if they aren’t well rested. Lack of sleep weakens their cognitive function, which results in slow or incoherent decision making, and accidents become nearly inevitable.
Operating at a safe and productive level comes when your people are getting the proper amount of sleep regularly. They remain alert and engaged—and safer—when they are getting quality sleep every night. Conversely, fatigued employees are impaired. They are as likely to be injured on the job as a worker who arrives under the influence of alcohol. Consider these findings on how fatigue affects employees.
Both Intoxication and Fatigue Increase the Risk of a Workplace Accident
Everyone understands alcohol use leads to diminished mental and physical abilities. No business owner or manager would allow a worker to show up intoxicated. It would be a recipe for disaster in an already dangerous environment.
Yet, recent studies have shown the impairment that comes from too little sleep is equivalent to a 0.04 blood alcohol level. And the impairment begins with those getting fewer than nine hours of sleep. The less sleep they get, the higher the detrimental effect on their mental and physical faculties.
It’s vital to the well-being of their companies that employers become aware of the risks that a fatigued workforce poses, especially as it pertains to the increased risk of accidents. Adding to the potential problem are shift workers—those who work any shift outside of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. They are the most likely to get less than the optimal amount of sleep because the shift rotations can interfere with their circadian rhythms, making them vulnerable to drowsiness on the job, as well as to physical, mental and emotional health problems.
The Effects of Worker Fatigue
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), accident and injury rates climb 18% during evening shifts and 30% during night shifts when compared to day shifts. Working 12-hour days has been linked to a 37% increased risk of injury.
Decreased alertness from worker fatigue has been a contributing factor in the following industrial disasters:
- The 2005 Texas City BP oil refinery explosion;
- The 2009 Colgan Air Crash;
- The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger; and
- The nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.
Although human error cannot be eliminated, it can be reduced by addressing the root causes of fatigue, including poor sleep.
Strategies for Reducing Worker Fatigue
Each individual is affected differently by worker fatigue, so there aren’t any one-size-fits-all solutions. However, following these basic strategies can reduce employee fatigue:
- Talk to your workers about developing good sleep habits;
- Encourage your people to take occasional breaks and vary their tasks;
- Provide adequate lighting;
- Avoid extended working hours when possible; and
- Provide anti-fatigue mats for those who stand and proper ergonomics for those who sit.
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