Preventative measures key to avoiding fatigue-based workplace disasters

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Overtime workers and employees regularly scheduled for extended hours face a 61% higher rate of hazardous injury, and sleep deprivation has been a contributing factor to such disasters as Chernobyl and the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.
There are several steps organizations can take to ensure that they are helping to manage worker fatigue from an organizational standpoint, especially in heavily afflicted industries such as healthcare, aviation, mining, hospitality, and security.
These include:
  • Obtaining employee feedback regarding preferable work schedules
  • Creating a fatigue management plan with effective strategies for relief, such as calculated naps, physical activity, and frequent short breaks
  • Designing training programs that encompass tips for sleep maintenance, nutrition, work/family life balance, and proper use of stimulants
  • Designating a quiet, temperature-controlled room equipped with eye masks and ear plugs for on-site resting
  • Ensuring that dangerous tasks are completed during ordinary work hours, or with special precautions and safeguards
In addition, special regard should be given to employees whose jobs consist of night labor and shift work. Oftentimes, these workers’ disrupted sleep patterns results in shift work sleep disorder (SWSD), which can lead to poor judgment and the increased likelihood of cutting corners.
Measures to address these concerns include:
  • Forbidding workers from spending more than two to four consecutive days on any single night shift
  • Allowing two nights’ recovery after multiple working nights
  • Rotating shifts forward to align with the body’s naturally occurring circadian rhythms
  • Avoiding schedules that begin earlier than 6am, since early mornings are associated with shorter sleep schedules
  • Identifying employees who struggle with shift work, such as those over age 50
“Each individual has his or her own tolerance for fatigue-inducing activities, but establishing guidelines and internal mandates can help the vast majority of employees minimize working when fatigued and insulate the company from fatigue-related risks,” said Leslie Tarnacki, vice president of HR at WorkForce Software.
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