OSEA Safety News

The Dangers of Fatigue in the Workplace

Monday, March 18th, 2019

The effects of fatigue in the workplace are very much real and can have some serious consequences if not addressed immediately. Employers need to learn to recognize the signs of fatigue and help workers manage fatigue before it becomes a problem and their work environment becomes unsafe. Take the Exxon Valdex oil spill for example. In 1989, 10.8 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Prince Willian Sound off of the coast of Alaska. It was determined that the root cause of this accident was due to many workers on the team being fatigued. If the workers weren’t overcome with such exhaustion, they would have been able to prevent the mistakes that led to the accident.

But what is fatigue exactly? “Fatigue is defined as a condition or phenomenon of declined ability and efficiency of mental and/or physical activities caused by excessive mental and/or physical activities, or illness.”

Here are a few reasons why employees may be fatigued:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Long work hours
  • Prolonged exertion
  • Work environment is too hot and dark
  • Repetitive tasks
  • Work shift (up to a 30% increased risk for a potential accident if a worker is on 3rd shift)
  • Poor diet
  • Stressful work/home environment

Signs and symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Extreme sleepiness – inability to stay alert
  • Memory Lapses – increased forgetfulness
  • Slower reaction times – response time decreases
  • Difficulty concentrating – less ability to make decisions

Studies have shown that when workers are fatigued, their productivity decreases greatly and the risk for making mistakes significantly increases. Companies spend roughly $136 billion annually in health-related lost productivity not including days away from work for this reason.

Not only does productivity decrease but a worker’s commitment to safety is greatly reduced when they are fatigued. Their reaction time is also affected by this. For example, a fatigued driver’s reaction time is affected and they are three times more likely to get into a car accident. Our brains slow down when we’re tired, therefore; decreasing our ability to respond in an appropriate time. It’s similar to when a person is intoxicated and doesn’t have the ability to quickly respond to a situation or make a rational decision.

Long term personal side-effects of fatigue include obesity, depression, increased stress, and cardiovascular disease.

It is very important that individuals and employers understand the severity of fatigue and the impact it has not only on the individual, but the company as well. Just like any other workplace hazard, companies need to make sure their employees are not experiencing fatigue while they are working. It is essential that all employers in all types of industries learn how to prevent and manage fatigue on the job.

Employers who learn to prevent and manage fatigue within their company benefit from higher production rates, less absenteeism, less damage to equipment and fewer accidents. All of this leads to less downtime, more production and higher profits.

Sources:

https://www.nsc.org/work-safety/safety-topics/fatigue

https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workerfatigue/hazards.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill

https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/effects-of-mental-fatigue-on-brain-activity-and-cognitive-performance-amagnetoencephalography-study-2161-0940-S4-002.php?aid=57471

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