EHSQ Managers: On the Front-Lines of Reducing the Risk of Fatigue Related Incidents in the Workplace

Fatigue Related Incidents

n our recent webinar, “There’s More to a Yawn than Meets the Eye: Understanding the Risk & Costs of Fatigue to Your Operations,” Cority and Fatigue Science discussed ways that EHSQ professionals can support their organizations in identifying and mitigating the risks associated with fatigue.

 “Fatigue is a physiological condition that we all face when confronted with a lack of sleep or wakefulness outside of normal daylight hours.”

– Fatigue Science

Fatigue is a workplace epidemic. According to the NSC, 97% of employers say they are negatively impacted by fatigue. This breaks down to 47% experiencing decreased productivity, 50% who have seen workers asleep on the job, 57% who know employees that have called in absent due to fatigue, and 32% who report injuries and near-misses due to fatigue.

Here are some tips for helping you coach supervisors and generate awareness for the effects of workplace fatigue. In my opinion, the main ways you can influence and safe-guard against fatigue related incidents are:

Remove the stigma from speaking about fatigue. 

Open the dialogue about fatigue in the workplace and leverage internal and external resources to educate your workforce on the importance of getting a good night’s sleep and implementing best practice sleep hygiene habits.  

It is important that this occurs across all levels of the organization since fatigue impacts those who travel and experience jet lag, and workers who often check electronic devices after work. Using electronic devices that emit blue light has been proven to delay a body’s internal clock and production of melatonin.

Your Occupational Health professionals and their networks can help support and champion these messages. Encourage your shift supervisors to address workplace fatigue through 5-minute safety meetings at the beginning of a shift.

Partner with your Human Resources teams to build out policies and programs that address fatigue, promote rest with nap-rooms and rest-breaks, and offer sleep coaching programs to remove stigma.

Raise awareness through education

Opening the conversation on fatigue will help raise awareness about fatigue.  It’s important to look for obvious signs of fatigue (such as heads nodding off and yawning), and signs that occur under the iceberg (these include decreased awareness, decreased energy, lower energy, shifts in mood, heightened interpersonal conflict, impaired judgement and more). Supervisors can be encouraged to provide these employees with the option to take a 10-minute break, listen to conversations about employees talking about being tired, look for those with increasing inter-personal conflicts and heightened stress levels, and speak to those who are clocking in late to see how they can be supported.

A typical employer with 1,000 employees can expect to lose more than $1 million each year to fatigue.

– National Safety Council

Create channels for employees to report fatigue

As a component of your overall strategy, it’s important to create channels for employees to report fatigue that goes beyond citing an employee for lateness. Punishing for lateness threatens open communication around fatigue and can prevent future reporting, which may lead to a heightened risk of injury. Supervisors should feel comfortable with reviewing employee schedules, promoting short breaks and naps, referring them to programs for sleep disorder screening, offering sleep hygiene through employee assistance programs, and more.

Support “Safe Scheduling”

EHSQ leaders can help managers understand and incorporate the best practices in safe shift scheduling.  

Between 15 and 20 percent of the full-time work force are shift workers, who are at a higher risk of fatigue-related incidents. Approximately 8 million of these workers regularly working overnight.

There’s a lot to be said about safe scheduling. Some of the key components include implementing consistent shift work (ie fixed shifts of morning, afternoon and night) that doesn’t rotate, scheduling shift changes “with the sun”, and maintaining constant shifts for a minimum of two weeks for those with rotational shifts.  

It’s important to work in conjunction with the body’s natural sleep cycles as best as possible. This includes considering starting day shifts only after 6 AM, since the body is at its lowest peak just before sunrise. Early starting times are associated with higher accident and error rates, fatigue at work, and ineffective sleep.  Finally, policies should provide employees with sufficient time to sleep. An aggregate of leading policies from national and international organizations suggests a 12-hour window between shifts as the minimum standard to provide employees with the opportunity to obtain the recommended eight hours of daily sleep.

Audit and revamp workplace environments that encourage “sleepiness”

Health & safety and design professionals who wish to reduce environmental risks should look at their workplace conditions and have them assessed on how they contribute to fatigue. Environments with dim lighting, high noise levels, and toasty temperatures all contribute to fatigue.

Examine technology that support workforce sleep management

And finally, you can really uncover and develop programs using wearables to assist supervisors and employees to make healthy sleep habits. Consider pilots with wearable developers because they can help you identify at-risk workers while promoting sleep hygiene.

Fatigue Related Incidents graphic

You can learn more about the costs and impacts of fatigue in the workplace by viewing a recording of this webinar.