Fatigue is an Enemy of Safety

The National Safety Council recently released the results of a survey that looked at how the fatigue level of employees relates to on-the-job injuries. The NSC survey shows that a significant amount of work injuries and near-misses combined can be attributed to tired workers.

The survey, which included interviews with over two thousand workers, revealed that 13% of workplace accidents may be chalked up to the fact that the employees involved had not had enough rest prior to the incident. If the calculation is altered to examine just incidents where workers were harmed and near-misses, then the percentage of incidents credited to weary workers jumps to 32% – nearly a third of all recorded on-the-job injuries and close calls in the survey group.

Setting aside personal danger for a moment, the problem can understood in dollars. The NSC says that if an employer has a thousand employees, a fatigued workforce will cause them to lose about a million dollars each year. This deficit comes in the form of low productivity, missed time, and higher health care costs.

Managers were included in the interviews too. The NSC survey said that half of all employers interviewed had an employee fall asleep on the job and 57% could blame absenteeism on fatigue. But despite that, their other responses show that far too many either do not recognize a connection between fatigue and danger or are not yet taking steps to alleviate the problem. Over half will still assign a night shift to a worker immediately before or after a day shift. Three-quarters are said to underestimate the prevalence of fatigue in their workplace.

More findings of the NSC survey include:

  • Only 45% of employers say they will adjust schedules or tasks to help their workers avoid fatigue.
  • 73% do not communicate to employees about fatigue.
  • 60% lack a designated area for employees to rest.

Fatigued workers are often the result of a tough work schedule, which can come with increased business. And employees often don’t want to disappoint or upset a manager who asks them to work extra hours or consecutive shifts. The combination can lead to serious problems.

A safe routine, one advised by the NSC, is to make certain that employees have at least 12 hours off between shifts. And shift rotation is also said to be a benefit. If an employee has worked two weeks of night shifts, he or she will likely work safer with a few days rest and a return to the day shift for two weeks. Seven-day weeks are sometimes a necessity, but the NSC report spoke of companies asking employees to work full weeks made of 12-hour days in busy times. Even if the spirit of an employee is willing, eager for overtime, the risks that can accumulate from pushing the body day after day can outweigh the workers’ extra earnings and the benefit to the company.



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