Workplace fatigue increases the likelihood of accidents, injuries, and absenteeism as well as decreases productivity, especially those who work at night and/or for long hours. There are no clear fatigue recommendations for OSHA, but it does not mean that it is not a major safety problem at work.
The Causes of Workplace Fatigue
Shift workers are particularly vulnerable to fatigue, especially those working the night shifts. Since the body operates on a circadian rhythm, the time of day has a significant effect on fatigue. The human body is adapted to sleep at night and remain active and alert during the day. Sleeping less can lead to fatigue. When working consecutive night shifts, fatigue builds up and results in poor performance.
When a person lacks enough sleep or is awake for a long time, they experience sleep debt, an underlying cause of fatigue. Staying away for at least 18 hours is equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of .05% while staying awake for 24 to 25 hours is equivalent to 0.10%, which is higher than the legal blood alcohol limit in all states. People with sleep disorders, chronic illnesses, and are on medications may experience poorer quality and quantity of sleep.
Amount of Time Spent on a Task
People lose concentration, pace, and accuracy as they perform repetitive tasks for longer periods. Driving long distances, working on a production line, screening pieces of baggage, conducting quality control, and scanning documents are some examples. They may experience sleepiness, muscle fatigue, or mental exhaustion as a result.
Work Environment and Organization
Workplace factors such as noise and poor air quality may contribute to fatigue. Other factors that may influence employee fatigue include the size of the company, type of industry, the system in place to manage fatigue risk, the scheduling of tasks, and the compensation system, such as payment by task or overtime, among others.
The Dangers of Work Fatigue
A person’s cognitive functions begin to wane, resulting in a decrease in attention, vigilance, and memory. A lowered cognitive performance will lead him or her to perform their duties on the job less effectively. As a result, he or she will become more vulnerable to accidents and illness.
Fatigue can lead to decreased productivity and higher safety risks. Researchers have discovered that fatigued people, their employers and the economy suffer from reduced productivity, heightened risk of unsafe environments and increased likelihood of illness.
What Employers Can Do About Fatigue
Whenever possible, employers can take these steps to ensure their employees remain strong and healthy:
- Let employees have a say in their schedules and allow frequent breaks during long shifts
- Encourage participation in sleep programs online and in-person
- Incorporate sleep into wellness programs for companies
- Establish rules prohibiting video meetings, emails, and phone calls during off-hours
The more employees realize the importance of getting enough sleep, the more you can ensure that you avoid the setbacks of workplace fatigue.