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Six Actions to Reduce Worker Fatigue and its Costly Consequences

29% of Americans are sleepy at work, or doze on the job, according to sleep.org.

Long working hours, night shifts, time-consuming commutes, zero breaks, sleep disorders – all these factors reduce a person’s ability to perform his/her job safely and effectively. And with the always-on pressure posed by our high-performing culture, it’s no wonder errors, accidents and injuries are prone to happen.

The cost of a tired workforce

20% of accidents are related to fatigue, with 40% of highway crashes involving fatigued workers, according to a 2017 study on fatigue in the transportation industry. Fatigue and sleepiness also contribute to absenteeism, poor social interactions with peers and occupational injuries. In the aviation industry, a tired pilot or maintenance technician could endanger the life of others through a simple failure to communicate important information.

Workplace fatigue translates to $136 billion in lost productivity and healthcare costs each year.  

Fortunately, more and more businesses are recognizing the negative impact of worker fatigue and are taking action to reduce it.

Here are six such initiatives to manage the root problem of fatigue in the workplace:

1.       Fatigue risk management system (FRMS)

A fatigue risk management system regulates the use of tools, systems, policies and procedures to help monitor and reduce fatigue levels as much as possible. It is typically data-driven – monitoring and reporting mechanisms assess the level of risk, identify trends and understand the issues being reported by employees.

2.       Sleep health education program

Only one in 10 Americans make sleep their top priority, despite its direct link to personal effectiveness. 

Source: sleepfoundation.org

We all need consistently good-quality sleep to do our best at work. Expert-led sleep health training is increasingly taken into consideration in annual or new-hire trainings.

1.       Sleep disorder screening  

Tools and specialists can help identify people with sleeping disorders and provide them with appropriate education tools, whether they’re dealing with physical, mental or emotional fatigue.

Training is important to raise awareness on the risks and effects of fatigue, motivate workers to make sleep a top priority and offer them the strategies for better sleep – including physical exercise, reducing caffeine, alcohol and drugs.

2.       Limits on night shifts and early morning shifts

Half of Americans with regular sleep schedules wake up well-rested on weekdays, recent studies show. Scheduling rest should be as important as scheduling shifts. Early morning shifts force employees to go to bed early, which may lead to chronic sleep loss. It’s also forcing them to stay alert when their body is still in sleep mode. Furthermore, fatigue risks increase after consecutive night shifts, so regular breaks and shorter night shifts should be considered.[GA1]

3.       Overtime and on-call periods

Additional stress due to the unpredictable nature of the working schedule should be taken into account when it comes to sleep and health. Periods of extended work hours due to overtime or emergency response situations should be compensated with recovery sleep that allows the worker to become fully rested. Fatigue-proofing strategies such as double-checking tasks by co-workers should also be in place.

4.       Environmental controls

Factors such as extreme temperatures, dim lighting, polluted air favor a feeling of tiredness. So, ventilated spaces with bright light and moderate temperatures are useful for people working in stressful environments. Opportunities for short nap breaks can also produce benefits, such as reduced sleepiness and improved performance.

What is your organization doing to reduce worker fatigue?