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Combating Workplace Fatigue

- July 5, 2017 by Leslie Stoll, CSP, ARM (View all posts by Leslie)

As a general rule, summer can be a very busy time of year. Not only do some industries ramp up production in the summer, but many people are staying out late enjoying the sunshine after work, partaking in the warm weather activities on the weekends and taking vacations. This can quickly lead to your entire workforce fighting fatigue at work because they are not getting enough sleep, proper nutrition and may be working too much overtime.

This physical stress on the body impacts one’s ability to work safely. Signs of fatigue include (but are not limited to) mood changes, depression, decreased reaction times, difficulty with cognitive thinking such as programming machinery, calculating a measurement and holding conversations. The following pointers can help you manage your workforce and combat the fatigue encroaching in on production. 

  • Sleep: Encourage employees to get enough sleep when they can to make up for lost sleep during the week or weekend.  According to Harvard University, it is possible to “settle short-term [sleep] debt” by getting extra sleep to make up for lost sleep.  You aren’t going to convince many Midwesterners to sleep their weekend away when there are only a few nice weekends a year, but educating your employees to make up their lost sleep can be an effective way to combat this issue and hopefully they will find some time.
  • Nutrition:  With summer comes barbecues, ice cream trucks, and parties; what often follows is fatigue from poor nutrition.  Ask your employees to set personal goals for summer fitness and encourage healthy eating in the workplace by nixing the donuts on Friday for a veggie and fruit plate.
  • Overtime: Overtime can be very popular with some employees who use the extra pay in the summer to save for holiday spending in the winter. Supervisors must be conscious of how many extra hours people are working and how much rest time they are getting.  For example, if Mary agrees to work an extra 2 hours nightly and then leaves to babysit her grandkids, she may not be able to replenish her energy enough by her next shift and could be walking into work already fatigued and more likely to have an accident due to inattention. Supervisors must think about the human consequences of overtime and not just getting production demands met.  Your company needs to decide on a policy on overtimes that work for your employee’s well-being and your production demands.

History has shown that significant accidents like the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger and Texas City BP oil refinery explosion indicate fatigue was a contributing factor.  Those industries are known for their robust safety program and controls, but human factors can affect all workplaces including yours. Take time today to train you supervisors on recognizing fatigue and how to react to it.