Long work hours and irregular work shifts are common in our society. Many American workers spend over 40 hours a week at work and almost 15 million work full time on evening, night, rotating or other irregular shifts. Work schedules like these may cause worker fatigue.
Long work hours may increase the risk of injuries and accidents and can contribute to poor health and worker fatigue. It is estimated that 13% of workplace injuries can be attributed to fatigue, and 43% of Americans admit they may be too tired to function safely at work. Studies show that long work hours can result in increased levels of stress, poor eating habits, lack of physical activity and illness. It is important to recognize the symptoms of worker fatigue and its potential impact on each worker’s safety and health and on the safety of co-workers.
Worker fatigue has been studied in aviation and other modes of transportation, the military, emergency response, healthcare, firefighting, law enforcement and other fields. Employers can reduce the risk of worker fatigue in the workplace by:
- Examining staffing issues, such as workload, work hours, understaffing and worker absences, scheduled and unscheduled, which can contribute to worker fatigue.
- Arranging schedules to allow frequent opportunities for rest breaks and nighttime sleep.
- Adjusting the work environment with lighting, temperature and physical surroundings to increase alertness.
- Providing worker education and training addressing the hazards and symptoms of worker fatigue, the impact of fatigue on health and relationships, adequate quality and quantity of sleep and the importance of diet, exercise and stress management strategies to minimize the adverse effects of fatigue.
- Implementing a Fatigue Risk Management Plan under which, like other risk factors, fatigue can be managed.