The dangers of fatigue in the workplaceLisa Thibault
A contributing factor in 13 percent of workplace injuries, workplace fatigue also has a costly financial impact on businesses. A study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that US businesses lose more than $100 billion per year to fatigue-related absenteeism and reduced productivity.
What causes workplace fatigue?
Causes of workplace fatigue
Many environmental and ergonomic factors in the workplace may contribute to worker fatigue—including some of the same factors that contribute to musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs):
- Physically or mentally taxing work
- Boring or repetitive tasks
- Sustained tasks
- Stress (from any cause)
- Shift work (particularly night shifts)
- Compressed or long workdays (and workweeks)
- Poor lighting
- Extreme temperatures
- Constant noise
Health factors in fatigue and poor sleep
On top of those workplace factors may be health concerns that can also contrbute to poor sleep and fatigue:
- Sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea, which affect as nearly a third of Canadian adults
- Vitamin deficiency
- Chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid, or heart problems
- Diabetes and cancer
Fatigue Risk for Workers Who Drive on the Job
If you have employees who drive for work, the risk may be even greater:
- According to ICBC, driver fatigue causes 850 crashes in our province each year—injuring 620 drivers and passengers and killing nine (Transport Canada data averaged over five years). A
- 2016 study by AAA found that missing just 1-2 hours of sleep doubled the risk of a crash.
- The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s report, Acute Sleep Deprivation and Risk of Motor Vehicle Crash Involvement, reveals that drivers missing 2-3 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period more than quadrupled their risk of a crash compared to drivers getting the recommended seven hours of sleep. This is the same crash risk the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration associates with driving over the legal limit for alcohol.
Recognizing fatigue as a risk in the workplace and incorporating prevention strategies into your health and safety program is an important place to start. Learn more about workplace fatigue and how to manage it through training courses like our online Introduction to Fatigue Management course.
In your program, consider these tips for managing risk of workplace fatigue:
- Balance workload and schedule enough staff
- Consider temperature, light, and ergonomics in the design of your workplace
- Rotate jobs or try other strategies to relieve boredom
- Give your staff tools to recognize fatigue risks and to develop healthy sleep habits
- Monitor employee fatigue as a form of impairment
- Promote mental health supports such as an Employee Assistance Program and online resources such as Workplace Strategies for Mental Health
- Promote physical activity and exercise; consider a stretching program or break-time walking program
- Consider workers’ sleep needs and recognize the risk in shift scheduling:
- Where possible, schedule employees to work day shifts
- Restrict consecutive day shifts to five or six days and night shifts to four days
- Give workers at least two consecutive days off
- Make schedules consistent, and provide frequent breaks