Fatigue Can Be as Dangerous as Drinking on the Jobsite
There are many potential dangers when working on a jobsite. In construction, an alert mind and attention to operating machinery can avoid a severe injury or possibly save a life. One way to minimize risk out in the field is to combat the challenges that come with fatigue.
Fatigue can be described as tiredness, lack of energy and an increased effort required to complete tasks at a desired quality level. Drowsiness is related to fatigue but is a state with varying degrees between being fully awake and approaching sleep.
Impact of Fatigue on the Construction Workforce
Based on research, losing 2 hours of sleep from the recommended 8 hours has the same impact on concentration and reaction time as drinking how many beers (In Illinois 0.08 is the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle on public roads)?
- None with enough coffee or energy drinks
- 2-3 beers with a BAC of 0.05
- 10-11 beers with a BAC of 0.2
- I don’t know; I’m having trouble concentrating
The correct answer is ‘b’ – losing 2 hours of sleep produces similar psychomotor impairment as 2-3 beers. Answer ‘c’ is the equivalent of getting no sleep.1 Think of how many of your employees drive to the jobsite and/or operate machinery or heavy equipment. Doing any of the above or making important decisions at this level of impairment is cause for concern. After all, it’s estimated that 13% of workplace injuries are related to fatigue and those who sleep less than five hours per day are more than three times as likely to be injured than those receiving more than seven hours of rest.2
The National Safety Council conducted surveys on the topic of fatigue in 2017 3 and found the following causes of workplace fatigue:
- Shift-work: night shifts, rotating and irregular shifts (17%)
- Quick return to work: less than 12 hours of rest between shifts (14%)
- Long hours: 10 or more consecutive hours (21%)
- Long weeks: 50+ hours per week (22%)
- Demanding jobs: mentally demanding and/or physically demanding (81%)
- Infrequent or no rest breaks (10%)
- Inadequate sleep (43%)
- Long commutes (31%)
The percentages in parentheses shown above reflect the percentage of survey respondents that were at high risk. With respect to symptoms, at the lower severity level of fatigue one starts to notice a decrease in cognitive performance. A lowering in attention, memory and other cognitive factors becomes noticeable. Decision-making ability, productivity and task-concentration are reduced. At moderate levels of severity, microsleep (think nodding head and heavy eyelids) becomes a symptom. At high severity levels, there’s a very real danger as dosing off and inability to focus take over.
How to Combat Fatigue
Despite the somewhat obvious nature of the issue, the solutions can be much more elusive. In many industries like construction shift work and long hours can be unavoidable as project deadlines approach. Simply getting more sleep proves difficult too, as up to 20% of people in the U.S. suffer from sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
Some of the easiest solutions to implement are also low in cost. Increasing worker awareness of fatigue with training on causes, signs and symptoms can be accomplished with a short informational meeting, webinars and posters. The National Safety Council has a lot of this material on their website including posters, a 50-minute webinar and various infographics. OSHA’s site is another great resource with information and materials in the worker fatigue prevention section.
Employers can also offer training on how to get better sleep, including how to set-up a sleeping environment and activities to avoid prior to bed (e.g. tablet and smartphone use). Wellness screenings can be extended to include screenings for sleep disorders. Manager attention to shift scheduling and task overload can also be initiated with some ease. More costly solutions include fatigue risk management systems and driver alert systems (e.g. OpGuard and Optalert). These systems work to monitor eyelid closure, facial and head movements using in-cabin camera equipment and are non-intrusive in nature.
Employers lose an estimated $136 billion per year in worker productivity due to fatigue with 84% of that stemming from reduced performance while at work – not to mention the increased likelihood of injuries to people. Based on these statistics, implementing fatigue-based education, training and initiatives into your risk management strategy can generate a high return on investment.
For more ways to minimize risk on the worksite and combat fatigue among your construction workers, talk to a risk management consultant.
1 Roehrs, T., Burduvali, E., Bonahoom, A., Drake, C., & Roth, T. (2003). Ethanol and Sleep Loss: A “Dose” Comparison of Impairing Effects. Henry Ford Hospital, Sleep Disorders and Research Center, Detroit Michigan.
2 Sounding an Alarm on Operator Fatigue. Mining Magazine. December 2018
3 Fatigue in the Workplace: Causes and Consequences of Employee Fatigue. National Safety Council. 2017
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