Is Fatigue Causing an Increase in Workplace Injuries?

Snoozing while driving forkliftThere are many hazards that exist in the workplace, and it is important for companies to look at each one to try to determine how to mitigate the risks. Some issues are quite obvious and can be easily addressed, but others are quite difficult. One problem that is starting to get a lot of attention is the fact that millions of employees are fatigued while at work each year.

Experts have estimated that fatigue in the workplace results in at least $77 billion in costs each year. These costs are related to things like injuries, damaged equipment, reduced production, and more. The workplace injuries that are caused by fatigue are of particular concern because of the fact that they not only cost the workplace money, directly hurt workers as well.

Types of Fatigue

There are two main types of fatigue that can impact workers, and both can lead to injuries. The most common type is from a lack of sleep. Employees who work long hours and still have to get their personal obligations done often have to live on far less sleep than they need. The result is that they are coming to work tired, which means they can’t focus, their reaction times are slower, they may be emotionally drained, and have a variety of other issues.

These things add up to serious risks in just about any job, but in positions where an employee is driving (even driving a high-low or similar vehicle) the risks can be life-threatening. Of course, there are many other jobs that are very dangerous, and a lack of sleep can compound the risks.

The other type of fatigue that can increase workplace injuries is from physical exhaustion. Employees who have to do a lot of walking, lifting or other strenuous activities will often become physically exhausted by the end of the day. Their muscles won’t be able to perform at the same level as they could at the start of the day, which can result in dropping items, or having other types of accidents.

This type of fatigue can also get progressively worse over the course of a work-week because the muscles don’t have sufficient time to fully heal between each day.

Of course, it is also possible (if not common) for employees to suffer from both of these types of fatigue. This can dramatically increase the risk of accidents and injuries in the workplace.

What can be Done About Workplace Fatigue

The issue of fatigue in the workplace is not on that the employer can fix on their own. It isn’t like a job can give the employees a bedtime to ensure they all get a full 8 hours of sleep. The workplace can, however, do some things to help give employees the ability to ensure they are well-rested and ready to perform their jobs safely each day. The following are some effective options to consider:

  • Manage Overtime – It is sometimes necessary to have employees working extra hours to get the jobs done. Making sure that this is not required every day, however, is very important. In situations where lots of overtime is needed, make sure to track which employees are working it to ensure they aren’t becoming fatigued.
  • Mandatory Breaks – Many workers choose to skip breaks so they can focus on their work. This can cause them to become physically and mentally fatigued throughout the day. Requiring that employees take their breaks throughout the day can help ensure they are getting the much-needed rest.
  • Limit Work from Home – Some positions have the ability to work from home. Things like checking email, making schedules, and other similar activities. This can make it so employees can’t effectively recoup from the day’s work, which can lead to increased fatigue.
  • Fatigue Avoidance Training – One of the most effective, yet overlooked, ways to avoid fatigue in the workplace is to spend time training employees about it. Teaching them about the importance of sleep, and how to have a good work-life balance can be very helpful.
  • Watch for Signs of Fatigue – Having everyone watch for signs of a fatigued employee can help. If someone is seen dozing off, or having slow response times, or even acting irritable, it may be a good idea for them to take a break, or even go home for the day to rest.

There are, of course, many additional things that can be done at work to help minimize the risk of fatigue. Making this an important part of an overall workplace safety strategy is very important. When implemented properly, it can help ensure employees are properly rested and can perform their work safely every day.

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