The dangers of lack of sleep in the workplace cannot be overstated. In practically every industry, a worker’s lack of sleep can lead to serious injuries or even death, not only for the worker but for their coworkers and the public as well. For this reason, strict guidelines exist in many industries to prevent or minimize the dangers caused by the lack of sleep.
There are also laws that allow an injured worker to hold a drowsy coworker liable if their sleepiness causes an injury. Employers may also face liability in some fatal work-related accidents caused by lack of sleep, even though they have workers’ compensation.
If you have suffered an on-the-job injury because of a coworker’s fatigue, then speak with an attorney to learn what you can do about it.
How Much Sleep Do Workers Need?
Many health experts who have studied sleep and its effects agree that workers (and people in general) need at least seven hours of sleep every night to not only perform adequately on the job the next day but also to avoid a whole host of health problems that accompany lack of sleep.
Without enough shut-eye the night before, people begin to lose the sharpness and freshness that comes with getting a full night’s sleep. Cognitive responses become slower, as well as physical reactions. when one does not sleep at least seven hours per night. The result is a higher risk of injury in the workplace, especially with jobs that are more dangerous than others.
Over time, a nightly or weekly sleep deficit can cause serious chronic health problems as well. Diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are more likely to develop in those who get less than seven hours of sleep each night. These conditions can also impact a worker’s safety on the job.
Effects of Fatigue in the Workplace
Most people understand how lack of sleep can negatively affect a person’s performance in any situation. From driving a car to writing a letter, sleep deprivation causes substandard performance in most activities, at work or at play.
On the job, fatigue can manifest itself through the various tasks workers engage in and lead to suboptimal performance and safety numbers, as well as serious injuries.
Risk To Other Workers
Overly tired workers put coworkers at risk. Showing up for work without adequate sleep can cause worker deficits, such as:
- Lower tolerance for stress
- Communication difficulties
- Lack of requisite awareness of surroundings
- Diminished attention span
- Increased reaction times
- Lack of focus and concentration.
Each of these deficits can lead to a dangerous situation where another worker becomes injured or dies. In safety-sensitive jobs, this is especially true. These industries include:
When negligence is involved, these industries have a high risk of catastrophic injury and death.
Risks To the Public
Although not inherently dangerous, many jobs involve a degree of risk to the public that requires workers to take special care. For example, commercial truck drivers have strict licensing guidelines, as do commercial pilots, bus drivers, and train operators.
When pilots, drivers, or conductors don’t get enough sleep, they cannot achieve the standard of care necessary to ensure public safety.
In 2020, a Texas big rig driver closed his eyes on I-295 in New Jersey and woke up on top of two cars. Two people were killed, and the driver was indicted on charges of vehicular homicide. He may also face a wrongful death suit by the victims’ loved ones because he admitted to driving while fatigued so he wouldn’t be late to his delivery destination.
Healthcare professionals also have strict guidelines and high standards. Mistakes made while caring for another can cause serious injury and death and may include:
- Improperly prescribed and administered medication
- Mistakes during surgery
- Mistakes in ordering tests
- Mistakes in patients’ records
- Patient discharge errors
- Errors in diagnosis and prognosis.
Broadly speaking, drowsiness on the job during any type of employment that has contact with the public in any way – including food-industry jobs, retail, and entertainment – can lead to public harm.
Why Fatigue Happens in the Workplace
Understanding why fatigue in the workplace occurs is an important step toward eliminating the problem. Delving into the research behind fatigue in the workplace will quickly inform you that the problem of fatigue in the workplace is much more complex than lack of sleep.
There are factors that contribute to sleep deprivation that can be addressed and steps that can be taken to help eliminate the problem beyond simply recommending more sleep.
Stress and Production Goals
Productivity concerns are valid in the workplace, but injuries and the dangers created by tired workers are more concerning. Employers, supervisors, and managers are under a lot of pressure to meet deadlines and production goals and sometimes sacrifice safety for productivity. They often do not realize that doing so is worse for the business in the long run.
However, it is common in many industries for bosses to “ask” employees to come in early, stay late, take their work home, or come in on the weekend, without realizing that the extra hour here and there could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Although demanding extra time can boost a company’s productivity, it leads to sloppiness and carelessness in the long run.
Overloaded Home Life
In many cases, the job itself is not the problem causing or leading to lack of sleep but the worker’s home life. After putting in a full day’s work or more, a worker must also deal with responsibilities at home. In an optimal world, the worker can handle their work and home obligations and still get the requisite seven hours of sleep every night.
However, in many cases, workers are overloaded by their home schedules and rarely get the sleep they need. Childcare, home maintenance, grocery shopping, cooking, and many other duties can eat into a worker’s leisure and rest time, leaving them unprepared for a full workday.
Unhealthy Nocturnal Habits
Some workers do not have overwhelming obligations outside of work unless you count social outings. These employees — who are often younger and without families — may choose to pass the evening hours drinking late into the night. The effects of this lifestyle can manifest as dangerous work conditions.
Unhealthy Work Culture
A safe workplace begins and ends with a job that values worker safety above everything else and recognizes the important role sleep plays in it all.
However, some companies naturally have a culture that places productivity over worker health. In many cases, they may not realize it because everyone is on board with working extra to get the job done. Unfortunately, this mentality can be unsustainable and dangerous in the long run.
Too Much Work
Some workers simply have too much on their plate to get a decent night’s sleep. This is often the case with those who are forced to work more than one job — usually out of necessity.
Sadly, many workers in this country find themselves in this situation and would love nothing more than to wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day. However, the economics of their situation prevents them from sleeping seven or more hours, and they must continue.
Injured on the Job by Another’s Lack of Sleep?
Regardless of the reason for the lack of sleep, workers have a duty to coworkers and other workers on the job site to be reasonably safe in their actions. When they violate this duty and an injury accident happens, the victim may have a right to compensation through a third-party lawsuit, workers’ compensation, or both.
Workers’ compensation is a type of no-fault insurance that automatically pays out work injury claims without probing into fault. However, fault can come into play if you file a lawsuit against a negligent third party, such as another worker on the job site who fails to get enough sleep and causes an accident due to an on-the-job error.
But you cannot file a claim against an employer who carries workers’ compensation insurance, except under very strict circumstances. Death on the job is one of the situations. If you lose a loved one on the job, you may be able to recover damages from the employer if you can prove the employer was at grossly negligent.
The takeaway is that a lawsuit against a negligently tired worker may be an option for injured workers instead of or in addition to workers’ compensation.
In Texas, the general statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim is two years from the date of the accident. But workers only have one year to file a workers’ compensation claim. (*Always speak directly to an attorney for the exact deadline(s) that apply to your potential claim(s).)
A third-party liability claim will allow you to seek economic and non-economic damages against a negligent party.
Economic damages are any losses that come with a dollar figure already assigned, such as medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering and loss of consortium and are assigned a value based on the circumstances of the case.
If you have been injured on the job due to someone’s lack of sleep, call Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law now for a free consultation. You may deserve compensation for your losses, and our work injury attorneys can help. Call (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000.