Fatigue Is a Serious Safety Issue in the Workplace

As adults, we need between seven and nine hours of sleep. However, about 38 percent of U.S. workers sleep less than six hours a night, according to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report.

The most important effects of fatigue include lack of motivation, slower reaction time, reduced alertness, poorer concentration, memory problems and poor judgment. Fatigued workers are potentially dangerous to themselves and to others, particularly workers in safety-sensitive positions. In fact, some of the most serious industrial accidents in recent decades have been attributed to worker fatigue, including the 2005 Texas City BP oil refinery explosion, the Exxon Valdez tanker spill, the 2009 Colgan Air crash, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

According to the National Safety Council’s (NSC) Fatigue Cost Calculator, an employer with 1,000 employees can expect to lose more than $1 million each year in missed workdays, lower productivity and increased health care costs because of worker fatigue. This is a real problem in the workplace that should not be overlooked, as it can affect an employer’s bottom line.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidance on how employers can reduce the risk of worker fatigue in the workplace. OSHA recommends that employers:

  • Examine staffing issues such as workload, work hours, understaffing and worker absences, all of which contribute to worker fatigue.
  • Arrange schedules to allow frequent opportunities for rest breaks and nighttime sleep.
  • Make adjustments to the work environment such as lighting, temperature and physical surroundings to increase alertness.
  • Provide worker education and training addressing the hazards of worker fatigue, the symptoms of worker fatigue, the impact of fatigue on health and relationships, adequate quality and quantity of sleep and the importance of diet, exercise and stress management strategies to minimize the adverse effects of fatigue. 
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