As part of an occupational safety and health program, workplace fatigue must be studied as a factor that can increase risks of safety incidents. Luckily there is research that can help.
In February, the NSC Fatigue Initiative and the Campbell Institute released a new report, Understanding Fatigue Risk: Assessment and Countermeasures, detailing a pilot study to investigate fatigue in the workplace. Eight individual sites across three Institute member organizations participated in the pilot study. The goal of the project was to obtain a better understanding of the causes of fatigue in the workplace, both from workplace factors and employee habits on- and off-the-job. In total, 1158 workers participated in the project.
According to the report, a 2014 meta-analysis of 27 observational studies estimated that up to 13% of workplace injuries could be attributed to fatigue, and workers with sleep problems had a 1.62 times higher risk of being injured than those without.
The report also includes key findings that you can use to see if there are warning signs that fatigue may be an issue in your organization, and therefore a factor increasing risks of incidents.
Check for the following four signs:
1) High Use of Evening, Night, or Early Morning Shifts
All of the participating sites in the pilot study noted that they use evening, night, and/or early morning shift scheduling in their facilities. Workers on these shifts, especially those that take place between midnight and 6:00am, are operating when their body clocks are naturally at a low point, which is why night shifts carry an additional risk for fatigue and fatigue-related safety incidents.
2) Difference in Scheduled Hours Versus Actual Hours Worked
All of the pilot locations had a significant difference of scheduled work hours to the actual hours worked. The majority of workers at all sites reported that they are scheduled to work eight hours a day and 40 hours a week, but about the same proportion of workers reported that they frequently work longer shifts and many more hours per week. Long shifts take away from time to recover with sleep, and working long shifts on a regular basis contributes to sleep deprivation.
3) No Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) Components
According to the pilot study, participating sites do not have many components, if any, of a fatigue risk management system implemented in their organizations. This is not surprising because awareness of fatigue as a safety issue has become known only in recent years, the research says. Some examples of FRMS components include:
- Fatigue management policy that includes limits on work hours and minimum requirements for off-duty and recovery rest periods.
- Regular review of overtime schedules.
- Fatigue reporting system for employees.
- Procedures to determine whether fatigue played a role in an incident.
- Fatigue management training and education for employees and management.
4) Mixed Worker Opinions on the Organization’s Approach to Fatigue
It has been said many times, but it’s worth repeating: what employees think and say may already provide red flags about something being wrong. According to the research, worker opinion appears to be mixed regarding the organization’s approach to workplace fatigue. No site showed any clear trends regarding the encouragement of breaks, the concern for the amount of rest employees receive, or feeling comfortable telling supervisors that they need a break. This suggests that fatigue is yet to be as strongly communicated as a safety issue as other more traditional safety and health topics.
Read the full report to better understand fatigue risk, and to learn more about recommendations and countermeasures that can help your organization.
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