Worker Fatigue Leads to Increased Safety Risks

A new report, "Fatigue in Safety-Critical Industries: Impact, Risks and Recommendations," published by the National Safety Council (NSC), states that 69 percent of employees working in four safety-critical industries (construction, utilities, manufacturing and transportation) are tired at work, increasing the risk of injuries and other problems on the job. For example, 45 percent of construction employers said employee fatigue was responsible for safety-related incidents, and 71 percent said it affected productivity.

The NSC listed the primary risk factors for employee fatigue as demands of the job, long commutes, night or early-morning work, getting less than seven to nine hours of sleep per night, working 50 hours or more per week, and working 10-hour or longer shifts. It also noted that 100 percent of construction employees had at least one of these risk factors.

The report is the result of two surveys, one of employers and the other of employees. Interestingly, the two surveys expose a gap between how employers and employees view the risks and consequences of being tired at work. For example, while 90 percent of employers feel the impact of employee fatigue on their organizations, including observing safety incidents involving tired employees and declines in productivity, only 72 percent of employees view being tired as a safety issue. Furthermore, in the construction industry specifically, 98 percent of employers said fatigue was a safety issue, while only 75 percent of employees agreed. Finally, while 95 percent of employers in the utility industry said it is unsafe to drive while tired, only 66 percent of employees in that industry agreed.

"We've been looking at the impact of fatigue in the workplace for a long time, but it is troubling to see just how affected our safety-sensitive industries are," said Emily Whitcomb, senior program manager of fatigue initiatives at the NSC. "These industries are already at higher risk because of their safety-sensitive jobs."

According to the NSC, lack of sleep costs $410 billion annually in societal expenses, and fatigue has a different price tag for each employer.

To help employers reduce employee fatigue, the NSC recommends decreasing the length of shifts and work weeks, educating employees on the dangers of sleep deprivation, establishing a fatigue reporting system, installing driver fatigue alert systems, scheduling rest breaks and creating rest areas for those working night shifts.

In addition, to help employers calculate risks and costs, the NSC created the Fatigue Cost Calculator. And, to help employers address these risks, it created the Fatigue Toolkit. For more information on these, visit https://www.nsc.org/work-safety/safety-topics/fatigue.

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