Fatigue can be a safety hazard at work

People are working harder and longer hours than ever before. A 2019 survey from Bankrate found that just 52 percent of Americans were planning to take a summer vacation that year, and more than a quarter were not planning any summer travel. Though affordability is a driving factor behind staying put, many workers admittedly fear missed opportunities or dread falling behind on emails and other assignments, so they skip or shorten vacations as a result. However, failure to take breaks and consistently pushing oneself can contribute to work fatigue, which can be dangerous.

The employment resource Open Source Workplace says fatigue occurs when a person feels exhausted, weary or sleepy. Fatigue can result from prolonged physical or mental work, lengthy periods of anxiety or stress and/or insufficient sleep. Fatigue can be acute or chronic.

The National Safety Council says fatigue at work or on the road can be deadly. Millions of workers get little sleep on a regular basis or do not make enough time to recharge their batteries. The NSC says more than 43 percent of workers are sleep deprived. Many of those people work long shifts, irregular shifts or overnight work. Fatigue can add up and lead to performance and safety issues. Consider these statistics from the NSC.

A person is three times more likely to be in a car crash if he or she is fatigued.

Losing even two hours of sleep is equivalent to having three beers and being intoxicated.

Fatigued workers cost employers between $1,200 and $3,100 per employee annually in productivity lost.

Chronic sleep deprivation causes depression, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and other illnesses.

Fatigue can increase risk-taking behaviors and reduce physical and mental functioning. People who are not on top of their games may make mistakes that can lead to accidents. Furthermore, complex planning ability and problem-solving skills can be compromised when dealing with fatigue.

Preventing fatigue involves being aware of its causes. Workers and their employers can take these steps together to improve safety and productivity.

Employers can provide relaxation rooms or on-site sleep pods where workers can grab naps or unwind.

Workers can visit with their doctors to determine if fatigue symptoms are the result of restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, insomnia, or a side effect of certain medications. Once the source is identified, new or alternative treatments can be implemented to improve sleep.

Employees should be encouraged to stick to their shifts and any overtime availability can be rotated among workers to offset fatigue issues. Two consecutive days off each week also are helpful.

Human resources departments can provide training and awareness education about the consequences of fatigue.

A redesigned workplace with a cool atmosphere, low humidity and plenty of natural light may help offset fatigue.

Employers can make an effort to balance workloads more effectively and hire new staff.

Fatigue is a hazard that many workers may not recognize as a problem. But it has a significant impact on safety and performance.

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