When’s the last time you got eight hours of sleep? Sleep quality and quantity are vital factors in overall health. Adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, but almost a third of us are getting less than six hours. This trend affects the work sector as well, where 43% of employees work while sleep deprived.
The combination of lack of sleep and long work hours results in worker fatigue. Worker fatigue is most prevalent in those working night, long, or irregular shifts. The effects of this fatigue are far-reaching and can have an adverse impact not only at the workplace, but in all areas of life—chronic sleep deprivation causes depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other illnesses.
Employers should keep in mind that:
- Safety performance decreases as employees become more tired.
- About 62% of night shift workers complain about sleep loss.
- Fatigued worker productivity costs employers $1,200 to $3,100 per employee annually.
- Employees on rotating shifts are particularly vulnerable because they cannot adapt their body clocks to an alternative sleep pattern.
Please keep the following strategies in mind to reduce worker fatigue at your workplace:
- Educate employees about sleep and fatigue. Employers can educate workers about good sleep habits and how to recognize signs of fatigue.
- Encourage employees to vary tasks and to take adequate breaks.
- Design workstations to reduce fatigue. Ensure that workers who stand have anti-fatigue mats and workers who sit have proper ergonomics.
- Pay special attention to unusual or extended shifts. Provide additional breaks for employees working unusual or extended shifts. If possible, avoid extended working hours for more than a few days.
- Make sure lighting in work areas is sufficient, that noise levels are appropriate (louder noise levels increase fatigue), and that temperature levels are comfortable (not too warm, too cold, etc.).
- Make healthy snacks available and encourage frequent hydration.
In addition to affecting productivity, fatigued working is a serious safety issue. Fatigued employees who operate equipment and machinery are much more likely to have an accident at work, endangering themselves and their coworkers. The greatest danger, however, is driving to and from work while fatigued or drowsy.
Driving drowsy impairs driving ability. The National Safety Council has gathered research that shows that you are three times more likely to be in a car crash if you are fatigued, and losing even two hours of sleep is similar to the effect of having three beers.
Rolling down windows or increasing radio volume are not effective methods to reduce drowsiness. Rather, focus on prevention by making sure to:
- Get a full night’s sleep (between seven and eight hours) before driving.
- Avoid driving late at night.
- Avoid driving alone.
- On a long trip, share the driving with another passenger.
- Pull over at a rest stop and take a nap, if needed.
- Arrange for someone to give you a ride home after working a late shift.