Fatigue costs employers millions, so as a safety manager, how can you help your staff stay alert, focused, and awake?

It’s a scenario no manager wants to encounter: Jan, a 35-year-old office worker in San Diego had worked 4 nights in a row putting the finishing touches on a huge project as a major deadline loomed on the horizon. After work, she agreed to stay a couple hours longer to help a co-worker. When Jan finally left the office three hours later, she was so deliriously tired that she missed a step getting into her vehicle, fell forward onto her face causing serious injury. She was bruised and swollen, and was later diagnosed with a severe nasal fracture. She was out of work for 2 weeks secondary to the rhinoplasty procedure necessary to repair the fracture.

Statistics on Lack of Sleep

The body operates on a circadian rhythm sleep/wake cycle. It is naturally programmed for sleeping
during night hours. Demanding work schedules may disrupt the body’s natural cycle, leading to
increased fatigue, stress and lack of concentration. According to a sleep index study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 68% of adults are not getting the amount of sleep required. (7-9 hours)

We are a society driven to produce, and often sleep may seem to get in the way of that. But excess
productivity can be accompanied by excess risk, particularly with shift workers or those that work on
projects into the night on a regular basis. In fact, those who work night and rotating shifts are almost
twice as likely to be injured on the job than those working day shifts.

Type 2 Diabetes: Irregular sleep cycles can disrupt the quality of sleep as well as the quantity. This can often lead to a weakened insulin resistance and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The Costs

Sleep disorders are a major driver of costs in the workplace. When sleep disorders result in lost or poor sleep for an employee, the National Safety Council reports an impact on:

  • Absenteeism
  • Presenteeism, (being present at work but not fully functioning)
  • Healthcare costs
  • Injuries
  • Costly Accidents

The National Safety Council goes on to report a typical employer with 1,000 employees can expect to
experience more than $1 million lost each year to fatigue: $272,000 due to absenteeism and $776,000 due to presenteeism. An additional $536,000 in healthcare costs could be avoided with optimization of sleep health.

Solutions

Investigators in the Sleep Matters Initiative, led by directors from Brigham Health and Harvard Medical School say, “Promotion of healthy sleep is a win-win for both employers and employees, enhancing quality of life and longevity for workers while improving productivity and reducing health care costs for employers. Additionally, occupational fatigue-management programmes can increase knowledge of sleep disorders, educate participants on the impact of reduced alertness due to sleep deficiency, and teach fatigue countermeasures, as well as screen for untreated sleep disorders.”

Organizational changes that can help workers with safety and productivity according to the National
Sleep Foundation:

  • Work environment- A work environment that is cool and bright helps shift workers stay alert on the job. Exposure to bright light or sunlight (if sun is still up) can help improve alertness. Giving workers ability to stand up, stretch or walk periodically is also important. If there is food on site, offer healthy options like vegetables and fruits to keep workers’ energy up and promote good health as well as blood sugar regulation.
  • Arranging workloads: If possible, shift workers should plan to do the work that requires the most concentration and skill (carries highest safety risks) at the time in their shift when they are most alert. Even employees who work traditional hours should plan to do their most vital tasks early in their day.

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There are many physiological and psychological factors that could be impaired due to working extended or irregular hours. The Federal Aviation Administration uses an I’M SAFE checklist for employees to assess themselves throughout their workday. This is a valuable tool for any industry to use, giving employees an opportunity to address any issues they may have that would render them unsafe in their workplace setting.

The I’m Safe checklist for clinicians to assess fatigue and fitness to work offers this set of simple questions that you can ask yourself:

Illness: Do I have any symptoms?
Medication: Have I been taking prescription or over the counter drugs?
Stress: Am I under psychological pressure from the job, financial matters, family?
Alcohol: Have I consumed alcohol within 8 hours?
Fatigue: Am I tired and not adequately rested?
Emotion: Am I emotionally upset?

No matter the work environment, awareness of the dangers of long work hours and extended, irregular work hours for employees is a serious matter. This also is true for employees who travel frequently and are subject to time changes. Using education and workplace organisation, employers can help improve their health care costs, productivity and even save lives.

If you found this article useful, check out the latest edition of our free magazine Cardinus Connect  for more great content on health & safety and wellbeing.

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