Workplace accidents are inevitable. However, some industries can be more prone to incidents due to long shift hours or shifts that are outside of the traditional 1st shift hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Long hours coupled with short sleep duration and sleep disturbances often lead to higher risk of mistakes and mishaps. However, many accidents are avoidable when employees are alert, focused and fully engaged while performing tasks.
Lack of sleep results in fatigue and fatigue decreases alertness, diminishes focus, and impairs cognitive and behavioral function that is essential to coherent decision making, leading to workplace accidents. Employees need to obtain sufficient quality sleep and combat fatigue with healthy, continuous and regular sleep.
How does fatigue affect employees
If you read any employee handbook, you’ll most likely find a section prohibiting employees from working while under the influence of alcohol. A study conducted at Penn State University found that individuals who extend wake periods beyond 15 hours experience deteriorating mental and physical abilities. They also found that these deteriorating abilities were shown to be equivalent to a 0.04 blood alcohol level. The longer time awake, the greater the detriment in physical and mental faculties. The employees most affected by long working hours are shift workers (manufacturing, health care, construction) who extend their wake hours past optimal windows due to the fact that shift rotations are known to heavily interfere with circadian rhythms. This fact makes shift-workers in particular much more prone to falling asleep on the job, as well as to physical, mental and emotional health problems.
The impact of fatigue
Accidents due to fatigue can be very costly and employees who are fatigued are 2.9x more likely to be involved in a work-related accident. In 2014, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 107 out of every 10,000 non-fatal accidents were fatigue related and about 4,700 deaths occurred due to fatigue related accidents.
The dangers of fatigue
When most people feel tired, they often look to quick fixes, like caffeine, to make them more awake, but it only provides a temporary spurt of clarity and short-lived energy. About 45% of the U.S. population reports having sleep problems on any given night. That’s almost half of the population who are reporting to work consistently feeling fatigued. Not only does fatigue impact your safety but it also creates difficulty thinking creatively or handling complex business problems.
Shift work by the numbers
Compared with day shifts (hours between 7am and 6pm) the risks of a fatigue related injury are 15% higher for evening shifts and 28% higher for night shifts. When compared with 8-hour shifts, 10-hour shifts increased the risk of injury by 13%, and 12-hour shifts increased risk by 28%. Risk increased by 17% for the third consecutive night shift and 36% for the fourth. Additionally, as weekly work hours increased, injury rates to workers increased. The highest risk is for shifts that are both long and during the night.
Providing awareness and education for your employees is the first step in addressing the problem. Many people don’t realize that they have an issue and assume this is normal – they feel fatigued every day, so they are used to it. There are programs that can help employers address fatigue issues with their employees and help reduce safety issues. Adequate sleep is a biological need for life and health similar to the need to eat and drink and is critical to work safety.
A better rested work force leads to a healthier workforce: sleeping on average of 7-8 hours a night is associated with a lower risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, myocardial infarction, and cerebral vascular accidents as well as reduced risk for injuries and errors.
Margret K. Warner
Vice President, Commercial Lender
Director of Business Services