69% of Workers Are Fatigued – Here’s Why It Matters

by Terry Bryant

An astounding new National Safety Council (NSC) survey finds that virtually seven of every ten American workers (69%) feel tired on the job, thereby increasing the odds that they’ll be injured in a work-related accident. An unusually large share of these at-risk workers works in safety-critical industries such as:

  • Manufacturing
  • Utilities
  • Construction
  • Transportation

Safety-critical industries involve increased dangers to their normal workday and the potential for large numbers of people to be killed or injured simultaneously in the event of an accident. The report, Fatigue in Safety-Critical Industries: Impact, Risks and Recommendations, cites two recent national surveys: one where employers were questioned; the other, employees.

Together, both surveys revealed a surprising gap between how bosses and their workers view the serious risks of being tired at work and the consequences. 90% of employers feel the impact of fatigue on their organizations, many of them being forced to not only observe fatigue-related accidents firsthand but to experience how the resulting absenteeism affects overall productivity, On the employee survey, only 72% of workers view being tired as a safety issue.

Other highlights of this pair of surveys include

  • 97% of transportation industry employers feel the impact of fatigue – the highest among all safety-critical industries which the NSC surveyed.
  • Nearly 95% of utility managers recognize that it is unsafe for them to drive while they’re tired. But, on the other hand, only two-thirds (66%) of their employees agree.
  • Every construction worker surveyed reported having at least one risk factor for fatigue (note: the construction industry is one of the most hazardous in the U.S.).
  • 46% of construction workers also say they work during high-risk hours, such as at night or early morning.
  • Transportation industry employees who reported at least one risk factor for fatigue most often cited long shifts (42%) and sleep loss (48%).

Greater Awareness of Job-Related Fatigue

Causes of work-related fatigue may include one or more of the following:

  • Long work hours
  • Long hours of physical or mental activity
  • Insufficient break time between shifts
  • Changes to jobs or shift rotations
  • Inadequate rest
  • Excessive stress
  • Having more than one employer (second or third job).

Changes to home environments can also impact sleep (such as having a new baby or caring for sick children). Some who experience chronic fatigue can also have increased susceptibility to illnesses. Chronic sleep disorders also cause fatigue. Regularly getting good and restful sleep (7 hours, if possible) is most effective.

Fatigue’s Impact on Job Safety

So just what are the effects of fatigue, and how do they endanger our safety at work? Because fatigue cannot be “measured” in the clinical sense, it is difficult to separate the effects of long working hours or lack of sleep; any changes in incident or injury rates which maybe reported are non-contextual and difficult to statistically assess.

But numerous studies reveal the following general effects of fatigue in the workplace

  • Reduced decision-making skills and decreased ability to solve complex problems
  • Diminished communication skills
  • Lower productivity or job performance
  • Shorter attention spans and problem-solving capabilities
  • Lower stress thresholds
  • Longer reaction times, both intellectual and physical
  • Challenges with memory loss and the ability to recall details
  • Failure to adjust to changes “on the fly” or to quickly incorporate new information
  • Inability to stay awake (falling asleep while operating machinery or driving a company vehicle)
  • Less willing to take risks
  • More errors in judgment
  • Increased sick time, absenteeism, and job turnover rates
  • Higher accident rates when compared to those who are not fatigued.

The National Safety Council has created a Fatigue Cost Calculator to help employers determine just how much a drowsy workforce impacts their profits and what can be done to solve the problem. The Council also developed the Fatigue Toolkit, which helps employers engage and educate their workforce about causes (and consequences) of fatigue in the workplace and on the roads.

If you’ve been hurt at work and feel the person who caused the accident suffered from fatigue, we can help. Contact the Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law team to arrange your complimentary case evaluation today.