Workplace injuries happen in many industries that require long hours, irregular schedules, and physical work. The fatigued employee is at increased risk of workplace injury.
Employers and employees need to know the role of fatigue in workplace injuries to help prevent serious harm from occurring while on the job.
Factors Contributing to Fatigue and Workplace Injuries
Workplace injuries happen when employees are too tired to be fully alert. When employees are exhausted, they are more likely to make mistakes or have trouble making complex decisions.
Irregular Shifts, Long Hours, and Stress
Employees that work long or irregular shifts are more likely to experience fatigue. Consider how construction workers, truck drivers, and nurses often work fewer days but longer shifts. The combination of unusual hours with stressful work environments leads to fatigue, increasing workplace injuries.
Stressful work environments are only one reason employees make mistakes due to fatigue. Employees can also become tired when they work at jobs with monotonous tasks like driving. After 90 minutes of driving, it’s easy for drivers to lose alertness.
Truck driver regulations, for instance, require drivers to take breaks regularly to prevent fatigue. Additionally, many new automobiles have driver-alertness monitoring cameras to remind drivers to take breaks.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employees who work night shifts are more likely to experience accidents and injuries. Accidents happen during night shifts and long shifts because employees often develop sleep disorders. Irregular hours at work translate into irregular sleep patterns making people more prone to being fatigued at work.
In stressful work environments, employees have to make snap decisions that can affect their safety and the safety of the people around them. Accidents happen when employees cannot make the wrong choice from being overly tired.
Slow reaction time can also create conditions ripe for accidents. Fatigued employees become forgetful, which can also impact their ability to make decisions and complete complex tasks. For jobs that have little to no room for error, such as nursing or truck driving, fatigue can cause serious accidents that can cause injuries and death.
Circadian Rhythm Changes
Circadian rhythms require a flow of cortisol and melatonin through the body to influence sleeping and waking patterns. These hormones keep the body awake during the day and asleep at night. When workers have unusual shifts, the irregular hours impact their circadian rhythms. Eventually, the body takes a break because it needs sleep to function optimally.
Circadian rhythm changes impact older workers, age 40 and older, more than younger workers. As the culture supports long work hours and 24-7 availability, more people suffer from sleep problems. Employees who work more than 48 hours a week tend to have poor sleep quality and short sleep duration, as adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night.
Any sleep problem can create fatigue during the day, resulting in more accidents at work. When employees have sleep disorders, they can experience fatigue when awake. About 25% of adults have chronic insomnia, struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep. Such a high number of under slept workers means a lack of adequate rest is a significant risk factor for workplace injuries.
How to Prevent Fatigue
Overly tired employees should talk to their employers about taking time off to avoid potential injuries due to workplace fatigue. Employers should also understand the importance of rest for employees.
Employers cannot mandate what their employees do when not at work, but they can create schedules that provide time for employees to build routine sleep schedules.
Employers can help their workers by providing them with adequate hours off between shifts to help employees get the sleep they need. When employees need to be especially alert, employers should schedule shorter shifts. They can help their employees further by shortening night shifts and adding rest days.
Getting Adequate Rest Between Shifts
Employees who work late shifts should go to sleep at the same time each day. They should sleep in a room with room-darkening shades and avoid having blue light from phones and TVs. Eventually, their bodies will adjust to a suitable wake-sleep schedule.
Using Breaks to Their Advantage
Long commutes can cause workplace fatigue, so workers benefit from living closer to their workplace. Workers who commute long distances can help themselves by taking a short nap or staying active during breaks. Drinking caffeinated beverages also helps with fatigue but should be stopped a few hours before going home for the day.