Is Worker Fatigue a Safety Hazard?

We all get tired at times on the job. This common occurrence is a problem when the experience becomes chronic, as often happens with shift workers; or acute, which accounts for many injuries to workers performing repetitive or mind-numbing job tasks. When fatigue results from work schedules, tasks, or stress, employers should recognize it as the work safety issue that it is.

What Causes of Fatigue Are Associated with Work Habits or Job Tasks?

Fatigue can involve physical exhaustion from demanding manual work, or it can be experienced by a worker who must remain on their feet for long stretches. It can result when mental drain comes over a worn-out employee at the end of a long day of engagement with demanding topics, or it can be a consequence of unrelenting job-related stress from work volume or other pressures.

Fatigue can occur even when a person is engaged in work that is not particularly strenuous in a physical sense, such as driving or performing repetitive, monotonous tasks for long stretches.

The most common cause of workplace fatigue is insufficient sleep, which is a problem for shift workers whose schedules involve overnight work and a disruption to their bodies’ natural sleep rhythm.

How Does Fatigue Affect People in a Work Setting?

When a worker becomes fatigued, their productivity is affected, but more importantly, their safety and the safety of those around them become compromised. A worker operating a factory machine or construction tool can cause injury to themselves or others if they experience fatigue as a result of the monotony of the job, especially if they get lost in the rhythm of the repetition and lose focus on important safety measures.

This is also evident in the abundance of fatigue-caused traffic accidents involving long-haul truckers. Often, when it comes to truck drivers, shift workers, and others who work overnight, lack of sufficient sleep is a significant factor in their experience of fatigue on the job.

What Kinds of Dangers Are Associated with Work-Related Fatigue?

When a worker is not at the top of their game, dangerous mistakes are more likely. A driver or machine operator at the helm of an imposing vehicle or dangerous instrument must be alert and aware of their actions to keep themselves and others from harm. For many types of workers, it can be dangerous to operate machinery when sleepy, overworked, or lulled into a state of distraction.

Fatigue can cause harm to a worker engaged in dull or repetitious work, but it can also affect higher-level planning and problem-solving. Fatigued workers have a reduced focus on safety and experience diminished relay response to danger. A good illustration is that of a driver who becomes fatigued by the droning engine and unvaried roadside scenery, resulting in a delayed reaction to an unanticipated danger in the road ahead.

In fact, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), a driver is three times more likely to have an accident if they are fatigued. The effects are comparable with drunk driving.

What Factors Determine a Job’s Risk of Fatigue-Related Injury?

According to research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), jobs that put workers most at risk of fatigue-related accidents are jobs that are in high demand, involve prolonged shifts, or cause disruptions in workers’ natural sleep cycles or workers’ ability to restore lost sleep.

The factors that make certain jobs problematic involve the duration of a worker’s time awake at a stretch, the time of day their workday takes place, and the workload for which they are responsible.

What Must an Employer Do to Address the Safety Implications of Work-Related Fatigue?

Employers interested in creating a work environment that proactively addresses the threats of worker fatigue should understand the dangers involved in certain tedious and boredom-inducing work tasks as well as the importance of sleep cycles and the cumulative effects of chronic sleep loss.

One way to address worker fatigue caused by repetitive or monotonous tasks would be for employers to afford workers time to rest and recharge. They may also allow for worker rotation where appropriate to keep the workday fresh and more engaging, which may also offer the added benefit of avoiding repetitive strain injuries.

To address the threats of sleep-related fatigue, employers must consider the impacts of circadian rhythms on workers. These natural sleep-wake cycles are strong forces that can negatively affect workers’ ability to withstand the impacts of fatigue and sleep deficit.

What is Occupational Sleep Medicine?

Occupational sleep medicine is a new field of study that involves looking at productivity and safety in the workplace using an established fatigue risk management system. Using the system, researchers apply scientific principles related to a body of research on sleep to address worker fatigue. 

What Can be Done to Prevent Injuries from Workplace Fatigue?

To combat job-related fatigue, some ideas suggested for employers to consider are as follows:

  • Employee training on the dangers of fatigue
  • Work schedules that provide two consecutive days off each week
  • Overtime policies that take workers’ odds of fatigue into account
  • Staffing with sufficient personnel to ensure no one is overworked
  • A redesign of the work environment that is cooler and brighter with lower noise and humidity levels to encourage alertness
  • Relaxation rooms where workers can nap and recharge mid-shift
  • Encouragement for workers to visit a doctor to identify sleep issues that may cause fatigue or treatments to improve sleep

New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Kotlar, Hernandez & Cohen, LLC Represent Employees Injured in Fatigue-Related Incidents at Work

If you were injured at work because of job-related fatigue, you should be covered by your employer’s Workers’ Compensation plan. If your employer has denied your coverage, reach out to the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Kotlar, Hernandez & Cohen, LLC. We will protect your rights and fight to secure the compensation for which you are entitled. Call us at 856-751-7676 or contact us online for a free consultation. Our offices are in Mount Laurel, Cherry Hill, Trenton, and Vineland, New Jersey; and Trevose, Pennsylvania. We serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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