Providing a safe work environment is not just good for your workers, but good for your company as well. Every year, safety violations and on the job accidents cost billions of dollars. However, there is one type of hazard that many managers and employers are not aware of: fatigue. How you handle fatigue and fight it can ultimately make a huge difference in both worker safety and in profit.
The High Cost of Low Energy
Many people think of fatigue as a fact of life rather than an impairment. However, being tired can indeed affect how well and how safely people function. Around one out of four car accidents are believed to be caused by fatigued drivers, making this a greater threat to public health than driving while drunk. In addition, fatigue in the workplace is believed to cost around $77 billion annually in the US alone. This is especially true for shift workers and other people who struggle to keep a regular sleep schedule. Treating fatigue as the safety issue that it is can cut back immensely on accidents, costs, and help to keep your workforce safer.
Fatigue and Safety
How exactly can fatigue leave workers at a greater risk of workplace accidents? Several major studies on how fatigue affects human behavior have pointed to a few key issues. First, the psychological effects of being over-tired may leave many people at high risk. Workers who are fatigued have poor decision-making skills and judgment. They are more likely to have mood swings, which also can affect judgment.
Fatigue also can have grave physical effects for your workers. It can reduce hand-eye coordination, making on the job accidents more likely. It can add to health care costs, as long term fatigue is bad for the cardiovascular system. People who are chronically tired miss more days of work due to illness and are generally less reliable. Workers also may nod off or fall asleep rather than attending to critical activities, which creates a high risk of injuring themselves, other employees, and the equipment that they are using. Keeping your employees alert and actively engaged with their environment is a necessary step in creating a safe workplace.
Factors Contributing to Fatigue
The exact hazards in your workplace will vary. However, there are a few issues that cause employee fatigue that are salient across many workplaces. Dim lighting and a high level of “white noise” tend to make workers sleepy. Similarly, keeping employees in a comfortable position for an extended period of time will make them sleepier, especially at times such as early afternoon when the circadian rhythm makes us prone to sleepiness.
Scheduling also can leave workers too fatigued to safely do their jobs. Changing work hours regularly can disrupt your employees’ circadian rhythm, leaving them tired all day. Depriving people of breaks also can contribute to fatigue, particularly when they are doing tiring or repetitive work.
Creating a Safe Work Environment
If you are tasked with improving employee safety at your workplace, there are a few ways to begin implementing a no fatigue policy. These include:
- Acknowledge that there is a need to balance employee energy levels with employee productivity.
- Train employees to perform their duties in a manner that minimizes both physical and psychological fatigue.
- Encourage employees to take breaks to stretch and rejuvenate when they feel fatigue coming on.
- Talk openly about work-life balance so employees understand its importance.
- Discourage keeping snacks and treats with empty carbs around the office, as these leave people with low blood sugar once the initial sugar rush wears off.
- If employees have to rotate shifts, rotate them in “the direction of the sun” – AKA, morning to afternoon to night. This creates less fatigue than rotating in the opposite direction.
- Encourage employees to get health issues such as sleep apnea treated, as these conditions can leave people permanently fatigued and sleepy.
Fatigue is one of the greatest safety threats in the workplace in modern times. However, it does not have to put your company or your workers at risk. A few common sense changes and a little oversight will ensure that your workplace stays as alert and vigilant as needed to create a safer environment for all.