Managing Fatigue-Related Workplace Losses

Fatigue-Related Workplace Losses

Employees who report to work in an acute or chronically fatigued condition, or who become fatigued while on the job, may be at significantly higher risk of errors that result in a loss.  When fatigue is suspected of being a chronic or persistent injury risk factor, it can and should be managed.

What is Fatigue?

Fatigue is more than being tired.  Fatigue is the body’s very real response to one or more significant stressors including sleep (or rest) deprivation, natural sleep cycle disruption, prolonged physical or mental exertion, medical conditions, lifestyle, or a combination of these stressors.

Fatigue results in slowed reaction time, reduced vigilance and decision-making ability, poor judgment, and distraction during complex tasks.  Employees suffering from fatigue are 2.9 times more likely to be involved in a job-related workplace accident.  Currently, 45% of the U.S. population report having sleep problems on any given night, and these same individuals are reporting to work fatigued on a regular basis.1

Vulnerability in General and Specific Industries

Transportation (aviation, trucking, rail), healthcare, extraction industries (mining, oil, gas), and emergency services are all at high risk for fatigue-related losses.  Within the trucking industry, driver fatigue factors in about 30-40% of accidents.2  Because of the higher risk, each of these industries is addressing exposure through formal Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS) as a result of regulation or perceived best practices.  An FRMS is a data-driven, risk-informed, safety performance-based proactive program to mitigate the risks of fatigue in 24/7 operations. An FRMS fits within an organization’s overall health and safety program to create a process that will continually monitor and mitigate fatigue risk.3

Any individual business may suspect fatigue to be a notable contributing loss driver for some jobs.  When this is the case, the same risk management principles can be integrated into existing risk management efforts.4  Examples of such principles are:

  • Management policies and procedures: Policies that recognize fatigue as a legitimate safety concern. Procedures that contemplate reasonable scheduling, duty time limitation, and rest schemes that protect against unreasonable job-related fatigue.  Develop these policies and procedures based on the specific risks and requirements that exist in your industry.
  • Hazard education and awareness training: Employees should be made aware of both workplace and personal factors that contribute to fatigue and know when they may be dangerously fatigued in order to properly respond and stay safe.
  • Fatigue reporting: Employees should be aware of the need to report fatigue-related incidents and should feel comfortable reporting subjective fatigue. Such reporting can help determine whether you are effectively addressing the hazards and what adjustments may be necessary.

Having a better understanding of the risk of increased fatigue in the workplace, the causes and effects of fatigue, the extent to which your industry may be affected, and implementation of risk management strategies can help control your exposure to fatigue-related workplace losses.

Sources

1Fusion Health. "Fundamental Way to Reduce Fatigue & Workplace Accidents." (retrieved November 2017) 

2Fatigue Science. "Transportation Industry Fatigue Risk." (retrieved November 2017)

3Circadian. "How to Design a Fatigue Risk Management System." (retrieved January 2018)

4Lerman, Steven E. MD, MPH, et al. "Fatigue Risk Management in the Workplace." Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Volume 54, Issue 2 (February 2012): 231–258