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The Facts Of Fatigue

Lack of sleep not only keeps you pressing the snooze button on your alarm clock morning after morning, but can also cause injuries to yourself and your coworkers.

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How much sleep did you get last night? How about the amount of sleep you’ve gotten over the last few days? If you’re like the average American, you’ve gotten less than the recommended eight hours of shuteye.

In fact, a recent Gallup poll reports Americans currently average 6.8 hours of sleep a night. Studies have shown that humans need between seven to nine hours of sleep each night to function optimally.

Lack of sleep not only keeps you pressing the snooze button on your alarm clock morning after morning, but can also cause injuries to yourself and your coworkers. When we think about safety, what often comes to mind is personal protective equipment and apparel, lockout/tagout, regulations and more. But what isn’t often talked about is how fatigue is a major contributor to workplace accidents and injuries.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), 97 percent of workers surveyed had at least one fatigue risk factor — shift work, high-risk hours, demanding jobs, long shifts, long weeks, sleep loss, no rest breaks, quick shift returns and long commutes. NSC research estimates that 13 percent of all workplace injuries can be attributed to fatigue.

When you talk about fatigue, images of people drooling on their keyboard come to mind. However, by the time employees are experiencing “micro sleeps,” most of the early warning signs have already been missed. The early symptoms of fatigue can be easy to overlook; they include a decrease in attention and concentration.

For employees doing safety critical tasks — such as driving a forklift or working on an assembly line — being unable to concentrate, or worse, dozing off, can spell disaster. The NSC reports that 47 percent of those surveyed say they’ve experienced a micro sleep in the past year. Additionally, more than 20 percent of all fatal vehicle crashes — or 6,400 crashes — may be due to a drowsy driver. Studies have even shown a person who loses two hours of sleep performs similar to someone who has had two or three beers.

If it is unsafe for employees to do their jobs while under the influence of alcohol, it stands to reason it’s unsafe for them to complete those tasks under a lack of sleep.

While obligations outside of the work environment (such as family or hobbies) also play a role in fatigue, there are some things employers can do to help promote healthy sleeping habits. The NSC offers up some tips: Learn about fatigue in the workplace, its costs, its causes and how fatigue can lead to a higher rate of safety incidents; educate employees on fatigue, sleep health and sleep disorders; and investigate the causes of fatigue in their workplace, and implement fatigue risk management as part of a safety management system.

With only 24 hours in the day and more and more things demanding our attention, many of us disregard sleep as something we can just catch up on later. Whether it’s staying up late to binge watch the latest Netflix fare, attending a child’s baseball game that goes into extra innings, or following up on work emails before going to bed, collecting sleep debt has serious implications. It can affect your health, mental well-being and even put your coworkers’ lives at risk.

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