People often make light of how little they sleep. An over-worked, over-tired condition resulting in no motivation or energy has, unfortunately, become the norm for many workers. But a good night’s sleep is no joke; it’s a necessity. The effects of fatigue, a term used to describe an overall feeling of tiredness or lack of energy, are far-reaching and can have an adverse impact on all areas of our lives.
There are two basic types of fatigue, biological and environmental. One type of biological fatigue upsets the bodies circadian rhythm or body clock. Most people’s circadian rhythm is on a predictable schedule. Melatonin begins secreting around 9pm and deepest sleep happens around 2am. It stops around 7am and peak alertness occurs around 10am. Employees who must work against their own natural sleep rhythm find it hard to work during the late-night or early-morning hours. They will also find it hard to sleep during the day. More than 43% of American workers are sleep-deprived, and those most at risk, like paving crews, often work the night shift, long shifts or irregular shifts.
Environmental fatigue occurs when the time spent on a task is excessive, the task is mentally exhausting, tedious or uses a repetitive motion. Following are just a few ways that fatigue can be harmful in the workplace:
- Impaired motor skills. Fatigued employee response times can be cut in half, much like when someone is intoxicated.
- Poor decision making and risk taking. Studies show losing sleep can lead to riskier behavior as employees may be more prone to making impulsive decisions without realizing it.
- Poor memory and information processing. Being tired can make it difficult to focus and retain information, just increasing the risk of slower cognitive function, which may impact jobs that require quick thinking or strong problem-solving skills.
- Special risk for shift workers. 62% of night shift workers complain about sleep loss. Employees on rotating shifts are particularly vulnerable because they cannot adapt their “body clocks” to an alternative sleep pattern.
- Sleep deprivation reduces productivity. The U.S. loses $136.4 million in productivity each year due to sleep deprivation. As work hours increase, output decreases.
- Sleep deprivation impacts the long-term health of workers. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, worsening of diabetes, heart disease, digestion problems, depression, some cancers, and sleep disorders. Fatigue can also reduce immunity against viruses, increasing the risks of ailments like colds or flu.
While a manager or superintendent might not always be able to control the hours employees must work, and they definitely can’t be in each home every night to tuck employees into bed, there are tools available to help train your staff on the hazards of fatigue in the workplace. The National Safety Council offers a fatigue toolkit that contains posters, infographics, surveys and webinars all produced to help employers deal with this common and dangerous workplace issue. Also, consider implementing a fatigue risk management plan that allows, like other risk factors, for fatigue to be managed.
“Fatigue Toolkit” NSC.org Web 2019 “Tired At Work, How Fatigue Affects Our Bodies” NSC.org. Web. 2018.