Two national reports find that 90 percent of employers feel the impact of fatigue on their organizations, including observing safety incidents involving tired employees and declines in productivity. The studies examined workers in safety-sensitive industries, such as transportation, manufacturing, construction and utilities.
A National Safety Council survey report released Oct. 1 found that 69 percent of employees – many of whom work in construction, transportation, manufacturing and utilities – are tired at work, increasing the risk of injuries and incidents on the job. The report, Fatigue in Safety-Critical Industries: Impact, Risks and Recommendations, summarizes the results of two national surveys, one of employers and a second probability-based survey of employees. Fatigue in Safety-Critical Industries is the third in a three-part series exploring the prevalence of fatigue risk factors and safety-critical incidents caused by fatigue in our workplaces.
“We’ve been looking at the impact of fatigue in the workplace for a long time, but it is troubling to see just how affected our safety-sensitive industries are,” said Emily Whitcomb, senior program manager of Fatigue Initiatives at the National Safety Council. “When you’re tired, you can be deadly and these industries are already at higher risk because of their safety-sensitive jobs. We urge employers to address fatigue risk in their workplace so all employees can be healthy and safe.”
The surveys also exposed a gap between how employees and employers view the risks and consequences of being tired at work. Ninety percent of employers feel the impact of fatigue on their organizations, including observing safety incidents involving tired employees and declines in productivity. However, just 72 percent of workers view being tired as a safety issue.
Fatigue has been found to be a contributing factor in incidents causing injuries and fatalities, and has a large cost for society and employers. Lack of sleep costs $410 billion annually in societal expenses (Hafner, M., Stepanek, M., & Taylor, J. (2016). Why Sleep Matters - The economic costs of insufficient sleep: a cross-country comparative analysis. Santa Monica: RAND Corp.), and fatigue has a different price tag for each employer. The National Safety Council developed the Fatigue Cost Calculator to help employers determine how much a drowsy workforce is impacting their bottom lines and what can be done to solve the problem. The council also developed the Fatigue Toolkit for employers interested in educating their workforce about causes and consequences of fatigue in the workplace and on the roads.
Significant Fatigue-Related Findings
Other significant findings from the Fatigue in Safety-Critical Industries report include:
- 97 percent of employers in the transportation industry feel the impact of fatigue – the highest among all safety-critical industries NSC reported on.
- Nearly all – 95 percent – of employers in utilities said it is unsafe to drive while tired, but just 66 percent of employees in that industry agreed.
- 100 percent of construction workers report having at least one risk factor for fatigue.
- 46 percent of construction workers say they work during high-risk hours, such as at night or early morning.
- Transportation industry employees who reported at least one risk factor for fatigue cited long shifts (42 percent) and sleep loss (48 percent).
Fatigue is a hidden but common hazard in all workplaces, regardless of industry. In safety-critical positions, however, the consequences of being tired can be catastrophic. For example, mistakes on construction sites, around gas line digging areas or behind the wheel of big-rig trucks easily can lead to injuries or even death.
What Employers Can Do
The NSC notes that fatigue is a problem that affects all of us, has negative effects on our health and safety both on and off the job. Yet, it goes largely unaddressed. The organization suggests employers:
- 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.
- Investigate the causes of fatigue in their workplace, and implement fatigue risk management as part of a safety management system.