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How Workers Can Reduce the Risks Associated with Fatigue

When workers experience fatigue on the job it interferes with their ability to react appropriately, reduces productivity, and significantly increases the risk of incidents at work.

A tired person trying to physically hold their eyelids open dramatically showing that they are exhausted.

Fatigue occurs when someone is feeling tired, exhausted, or weary. Workplace injuries increase when reaction time, coordination, judgement, and awareness are impaired by fatigue.

When fatigue becomes an issue during the workday, it is critical that workers take steps to take care of their physical, mental, and emotional health, not only for their own safety, but for the safety of their co-workers as well.

While there is not a single solution to fit everyone’s needs, fatigue can be prevented. There are many strategies that workers can use to manage fatigue so they can continue to work safely.

An exhausted construction worker.

Work-related factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Increased physical or mental demands
  • A job with physical requirements that exceed your current capability
  • Work environment that has high temperatures, high noise levels, or dim lighting
  • Tasks that are repetitive, monotonous, difficult, or that require prolonged focus
  • Long commutes
  • Extended, irregular, on-call, or overnight shifts

And personal issues that can cause fatigue are:

  • Not getting enough sleep, or enough quality sleep, multiple days in a row
  • Family or personal demands that are mentally or physically exhausting
  • Increased stress and anxiety
  • Health factors, including sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea
  • Medications, or alcohol, that may cause drowsiness
A dad holding a small baby feeding it a bottle in the middle of the night while yawning.

Signs and symptoms of fatigue that can become evident at work include:

  • Feeling tired, weary, or sleepy
  • Yawning continuously
  • Difficulty keeping your eyes open
  • Feeling physically or mentally exhausted
  • Memory lapses or confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating, impaired focus
  • Slower reaction times
  • Increased errors in judgement, flawed logic
  • Emotional instability or irritability

Workers should report any fatigue-related incidents or close-calls to help prevent future errors and potential injuries. Fatigue is a normal biological response which may indicate changes that need to occur to provide for a safer workplace.

Do not work if your fatigue threatens the safety of yourself or others. At any time, if fatigue interferes in your ability to do your job safely, make sure you talk to management so you can work together to come up with solutions that will maintain a safe working environment.

A very tired worker wearing a safety jacket.

Lack of quality sleep can significantly contribute to fatigue. There are many ways workers can improve the quality and quantity of their sleep.

Plan off-duty activities to allow enough time for adequate sleep. Eat healthy foods and stay physically active because it can improve your sleep.

Before you go to sleep, avoid meals, snacks, smoking, caffeine, and alcohol that can make falling or staying asleep more difficult. Avoid alcohol, spicy food, heavy meals, and nicotine for at least 2–3 hours before bedtime. Don’t drink caffeine within 5 hours of bedtime.

Avoid sunlight or bright lights 1.5 hours before you go to sleep. Keep your sleeping environment comfortable, dark, cool, and quiet.

Follow a regular pre-sleep routine before bedtime to quiet down your mind and body. If it takes you longer than 15 minutes to fall asleep, set aside some time before bedtime to do things to help you relax.

Get enough sleep (7-9 hours per day). Consider using a white noise machine, or a fan, if frequent waking during the night is an issue.

A person awake in the middle of the night suffering from insomnia.

By building resilience, managing stress, and developing a consistent daily routine with good sleep habits, workers can reduce the risks associated with fatigue. During the next safety meeting on the dangers of fatigue, stress these important points with workers:

Get adequate sleep. Ideally between 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night.

Communicate regularly with team members about job stress. Identify things that cause stress and fatigue and work together to identify solutions.

Don’t skip your work breaks. Use your breaks to mentally and physically recharge.

Reduce dependency on coffee and energy drinks. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. The effect of caffeine is only temporary and the only real cure for fatigue is adequate quality sleep.

Protect your mental health. Spend time outdoors, either being physically active or relaxing. Do things you enjoy during non-work hours.

Seek help when needed. If you feel you may be misusing alcohol, illicit or prescription drugs as a means of coping with fatigue, reach out for help.

A dvd and binder for the Fighting Fatigue in the Workplace DVD program.

MARCOM's Fighting Fatigue in the Workplace Safety Video Program discusses the causes of fatigue, the hazards that it creates, and what employees can do to avoid it.

The safety video program comes with a quiz, a scheduling and attendance form, a training certificate, and an employee training log. Click the button below to learn more.

Fighting Fatigue Safety Video Program

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