Preventing Fatigue Related Disasters in the Workplace
Fatigue has been a contributing factor in some of the world’s largest disasters. Investigators concluded that fatigue – due to 13-hour work shifts – was a leading contributor to the human error that led to the Chernobyl power plant explosion in 1986. A disaster that the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts will result in the deaths of over 4,000 people due to radiation. Fatigue is attributed to some of the world’s most infamous workplace-related disasters. Four months after the Chernobyl Disaster, NASA employees who were preparing the Challenger space shuttle launch worked incredibly long hours to ensure they could stick to the scheduled launch date. It was later reported that some managers only slept two hours the night before the launch despite the fact that they had been on duty since 1 a.m. that day. Sleep deprivation was subsequently attributed to the human error that led to the explosion that killed all seven crew members, which consisted of five NASA astronauts, one payload specialist, and a civilian school teacher.
Fatigue is a serious issue when it comes to operational safety. We have all experienced the afternoon slump which inhibits us from focusing on our work, whether it’s due to lack of sleep or physical exhaustion from our work duties. It not only poses a threat to our mental health, it threatens our physical safety and the safety of others. According to the National Safety Council, 43% of workers feel too tired to function safely at work. Another study found that more than half the night shift workers tested said they nodded off behind the wheel at least once a week on their way home. Fatigued drivers on the roads are dangerous enough but imagine those individuals operating massive pieces of equipment like a 400-ton haul truck. Any mishap could be devastating not only financially, but it could also cost someone their life. That is why the NSC has chosen fatigue as the topic for week 3 of National Safety Month 2019.
Fatigue impairs alertness, reaction time and decision-making ability, increasing the risk of accidents and decreasing safety performance in the workplace. Losing as little as two hours of sleep is similar to the effect of having three beers. Being awake for more than 20 hours is the equivalent of being legally drunk. But fatigue is not only caused from a lack of sleep; it can occur simply from a heavy workload, monotonous tasks or environmental factors such as high temperatures. While fatigue is dangerous in any industry, it’s even more so in safety-critical industries such as construction, manufacturing, utilities and transportation. The NSC estimates that 13% of workplace injuries are attributed to fatigue.
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
- Balance workload, staffing and shift scheduling.
- Train employees to acknowledge fatigue symptoms.
- Ensure employees get breaks during long shifts.
- Create brighter workspaces to help keep employees alert.
- Don’t overload employees or set unreasonable task completion expectations.
- Encourage employees to have a good work-life balance and take care of themselves by eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep and exercising.
- Utilize wearable technology, such as the CAT Smartband, that uses biometric sensors to notify workers of their fatigue levels.
Mitigating the risks of fatigue in the workplace not only improves workers’ health, but it leads to an overall safer work environment.
By Leah Carson
June 19, 2019