The US has a romanticized “workaholic” culture. However, more workers are becoming fatigued as the demands of their working lives make it difficult for them to cope. Fatigue itself has become a big issue in workforces as of late and trying to limit workers fatigue is the main focus for employers. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine defines fatigue as the body’s response to sleep deprivation or lengthy mental or physical hard work.
What causes fatigue in workers?
Although some causes of fatigue are out of employers’ control, many factors of it are related to subpar working conditions. For example, working long hours and having a heavy workload are conducive to the development of fatigue. A rigorous working culture can aggravate miscellaneous medical conditions and environmental factors.
Matthew Hallowell, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, explains how fatigue can even come about due to social interactions in the workplace:
“You can be fatigued simply if you go to work and have really poor social interactions with your co-workers. It’s not just about how much sleep you get.”
The professor explained the main reasons for workers developing fatigue in American workplaces:
“The industries that are at highest risk would be those where people are working long hours, overtime, many days in a row, when they’re exposed to harsh environmental conditions, like working outside in the rain or snow. Environmental conditions can include things like noise or vibration, really heavy mental task loads for long periods of time. You can extend to what industries that defines, like electrical transmission and distribution line workers, or people who drive snowplows.”
As the cost of living rises more citizens are forced to work multiple jobs. This is leading more workers to develop fatigue. According to research, those who work multiple jobs get 40 minutes less sleep per average on a daily basis than those with simpler working lives.
What are the effects of fatigue?
All of this is a problem for employers. Fatigue can cause their workers to become not only disengaged and unenthusiastic but physically and mentally impaired too. Workers become less efficient at their jobs due to a fatigued condition. Fatigued individuals have slower reaction times and have a tendency to make more mistakes than their well-slept counterparts. Fatigue is in industries across the job market. However, it is particularly prevalent among healthcare workers, drivers and shift workers. These positions often require long/unusual hours and can result in serious injury if their concentration lapses due to exhaustion.
The annual incidence rate for US workers who sleep 7-8 hours per day is around 2.27 per 100 workers. However, for those who sleep 5 hours or less per day, there are around 7.89 incidents per 100 workers. Fatigued workers are more than 3 times as likely to get involved in an incident when compared to well-slept workers. This illustrates how important it is for employers to limit their workers’ fatigue whenever they are able.
Fatigue risk management systems
The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine released a statement in 2012 advising employers on how to limit rates of fatigue in their workers. The fatigue risk management system proposed by the ACOEM suggests that employers should balance their staffing and workload so that workloads are reasonable. Businesses should manage their shift schedules so that employees have reasonable time to adjust to sleep patterns. Management should train employees on managing fatigue and sleep disorders. The design of the workplace can minimize the effects of fatigue. The condition should be monitored by management before it gets out of hand.
The ACOEM statement also suggests that workers should be trained and educated regarding health issues relating to sleep and fatigue, as well following a proper diet and exercise routine which is conducive to good sleep. “Alertness strategies” intentionally design work environments to be cool, bright, not humid and stimulating. This design minimizes the risks of falling asleep or “drifting off” on the job.
Protecting your employees from fatigue is becoming increasingly important in the working culture we are creating in the US. If you require any advice on minimizing tiredness in your employees, speak to a member of our team today!