Although the US is known for its romanticized “workaholic” culture, more and more workers are finding themselves becoming ill and fatigued as the demands of their working lives and personal lives make it difficult for them to cope. Fatigue itself has become a big issue in workforces as of late, with the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine defining 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, a lack of sleep and having a heavy workload are all conducive to the development of fatigue, as well as miscellaneous medical conditions and environmental factors which could indeed be aggravated by a rigorous working culture.
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, especially in well-populated states such as California, more and more citizens are being forced to work multiple jobs, something which is leading many people 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, as fatigue can cause their workers to become not only disengaged and unenthusiastic but physically and mentally impaired too, making them less efficient at their jobs due to their fatigued condition. For example, fatigued individuals have slower reaction times, decreased cognitive ability and have a tendency to make more mistakes than their well-slept counterparts. Although fatigue is found in industries across the job market, it is particularly prevalent among healthcare workers, drivers and shift workers, who often work long/unusual hours and are in positions where they could seriously injure themselves or others 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. As a result, fatigued workers are more than 3 times as likely to get involved in an incident when compared to well-slept workers.
Fatigue risk management systems
The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine released a statement in 2012 advising employers on lowering 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, manage their shift schedules so that employees have reasonable time to adjust to sleep patterns and train employees on managing fatigue and sleep disorders. Furthermore, they suggest that workplaces should be designed to minimize the effects of fatigue, and 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. There are also other strategies, such as “alertness strategies” whereby work environments are intentionally designed to be cool, bright, not humid and stimulating, minimizing the risks of falling asleep or “drifting off” on the job.
Protecting your employees from fatigue is becoming increasingly important in the 24/7 culture we are creating in the US these days. If you require any advice on minimizing tiredness in your employees, speak to a member of our helpful team today for world-class advice!