Steps to Combat Workplace Fatigue

Today’s workforce puts in long hours and close to 15 million people work night shifts or some type of irregular hours. Long and irregular shifts disrupt sleep patterns, and are a contributing factor to workplace fatigue.

Workplace fatigue can cause unsafe work practices resulting in traffic accidents, impaired judgement, and overall poor performance. Fatigue accounts for 20% of fatal road accidents and long-term sleep deprivation is also linked to possible health issues such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, metabolic disorder, gastrointestinal conditions, and changes in emotion.

Certain industries see a higher rate of fatigue, particularly those with irregular or extended shifts such as those in the transportation, military, construction, and hospitality industry, as well as healthcare providers, first responders, firefighters, and police officers.

Within the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) space, workplace fatigue is a common complaint.

Work hours for EMS personnel vary, and they are tasked with delivering health care to the ill and injured in patients’ homes, on the roadside, and in other atypical environments. Often they execute this care while under significant time pressure and stress. All of these factors contribute to mental and physical fatigue.

Recent research shows that more than half of EMS personnel report severe mental and physical fatigue while at work due to poor sleep quality and poor recovery between shifts. This may also have an overflow effect from finding a balance between regular life and work.

On average, half of EMS personnel obtain less than 6 hours of sleep per day, yet the National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours a sleep per day. It is not surprising that the number of fatigue-related safety incidences involving EMS personnel and their patients is on the rise.

Both the employer and the employee can take steps to combat workplace fatigue.

Steps for Employers

  1. Education and training – post comprehensive Workplace Fatigue Guidelines on how to mitigate the effects of fatigue. Regular training and guideline review with employees is recommended.

  2. Fatigue mitigation strategies - offer recommendations for caffeine use (in moderation), exercise and hydration. Maintaining normal body weight and minimizing fat and sugar may help reduce tiredness during bouts of fatigue while maintaining adequate fluid levels helps the body to function normally, and is one way to stay alert.

  3. Nap shifts – Offer a designated area for sleeping and the opportunity for sleep when possible.

  4. Survey instruments – measure/monitor and diagnose fatigue in the field.

  5. Shift duration – Schedule shifts for shorter than 24 hours at a time if possible. Rotate shifts clockwise if possible (go from a day shift to an evening shift, and an evening shift to a night shift).

Steps for Employees

  1. Daily sleep – Strive for 7-9 hours daily of uninterrupted sleep, in a comfortable sleeping environment.

  2. Overall health – Exercise and eat a balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight.

  3. Sleep timing – To be fresh for your shift, make sure sleep occurs within the last 8 hours before arriving to work.

  4. Napping – If a full sleep cycle isn’t possible, then nap. Nap duration should be less than 45 minutes or greater than 2 hours to account for a complete sleep/wake cycle.

  5. Sleep quality – Avoid drinks with caffeine prior to bedtime to improve sleep quality.

Being aware of the signs of fatigue, taking steps to manage shifts, training employees and providing fatigue mitigation strategies may help alleviate workplace fatigue and fatigue-related risks.

In addition to taking proactive steps to combat workplace fatigue, speak with a knowledgeable broker to understand what insurance coverage and risk management policies are available to protect your business and employees. Contact us today, for more information.

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