When people don’t get the sleep and rest they need, they aren’t able to do their best work.

People suffer—both mentally and physically—when fatigue sets in. Routine tasks are more demanding than normal, complacency sets in, and we even take more shortcuts when we’re tired (1).

We also don’t exercise our best judgement, communication suffers, and even reaction times can be negatively affected by fatigue.

The research also suggests there’s a link between fatigue and increased safety risks, including an increased risk of hazards and accidents on the job when we’re tired.

In fact, an estimated 274,000 insomnia-related accidents and errors occur every year at work. That costs employers more than $31 billion, a figure that’s more than any other chronic health-related condition in the U.S. (1).

Fatigue is also the cause of many incidents and crashes on the road today—in the transportation industry specifically, but it’s even a problem for those who aren’t working. One study found that approximately 21% of all fatal vehicle crashes may involve a drowsy driver (1).

The question is: what can you do to combat fatigue so you can reduce these hazards?

And for those organizations that already are addressing fatigue in some way, how can you improve the design of your program?

Developing Your Fatigue Risk Management System

Knowing every organization has to work against fatigue in some way, here is a roadmap to help guide you as you develop or improve your fatigue risk management system:

1. Aim for incremental improvements

When starting out, one mistake to avoid is to think you need your company to roll out a comprehensive, detailed, holistic fatigue management program right from the start. Some organizations have the capability to do that kind of program roll-out, but others are more equipped to start on a smaller scale (1).

Find what works best for your company based on your current resources, but don’t shy away from meaningful, but incremental additions to your current workplace safety program to combat fatigue.

If you find that starting small is ideal for your organization, you can experiment and quickly learn what’s working—and then continue to build momentum across the organization and across different work environments.

2. Be clear and transparent

So you’ve outlined and written out a plan for dealing with fatigue in your business…

That’s important, but also remember how important it will be to communicate why you’re adding or adapting your safety program. Employees will appreciate how you’re looking to improve their health and quality of life, so don’t be afraid to open up and share the motivation behind what you are proposing.

Sharing this message and allowing workers to give their input will help with buy-in, but it will also help with providing relevant education and training.

3. Get specific to your company

You’ll want to assess and analyze fatigue risks that are specific to your job sites and your organization. That will help you set priorities on where to start and focus as you roll out the program (1). A few areas this will likely include:

  •      Training
  •      Education
  •      Relevant controls
  •      Assessment of symptoms
  •      Assessment of work environment
  •      Assessment of sleep in current workers
  •      Assessment in job rotation and other job-specific norms
  •      Assessment of fatigue awareness levels
  •      Creation of checklists
  •      Clarification of roles and responsibilities
  •      Incident reporting systems (1, 2)

4. Help your workers become more self-aware!

In general, most of us aren’t great at knowing when we’re fatigued. That’s why training and education is critical for workers to be able to learn how to self-assess and self-manage on the job.

This might go one step further and include an evaluation of how fatigue affects them, but also it can open up tangible changes to how they currently work or the environment they are in.

For example, that might include the ability for them to take breaks (and a reminder to do so); setting up an environment/space for workers to be able to take breaks; task rotations; changes to lighting and room temperatures; changing when highly complex tasks are done, etc. Often, checklists can support some of these fatigue-proofing strategies because they remind and prompt workers to implement the changes (1, 2).

5. Integrate the changes with the rest of your safety program

An effective fatigue risk management program should be created in a way that’s aligned with the mechanisms you’re already addressing safety with in your organization. That helps ensure success and integration with your existing safety program and culture.

6. Make sure people know it’s a shared responsibility

You want workers to recognize that fighting fatigue is a responsibility that is shared by employers and employees. Let’s face it: taking ownership is key. After all, neither side can single-handedly remove all risks and hazards that come from fatigue!

On the employer side, be sure:

  •      You give employees opportunity to take breaks
  •      You give employees time off between shifts
  •      You consider ways to maximize their sleep opportunity
  •      You gather data to learn from when it comes to fatigue management
  •      You gather continuous input from employees
  •      You create an incident investigation process that includes fatigue-related questions (1, 2)

On the worker side, be sure:

  •      You utilize time away from work for adequate rest and sleep
  •      You report to work as rested and fit for work as possible
  •      You report fatigue-related incidents or errors to your employer
  •      You take advantage of fatigue-related checklists
  •      You see fatigue as a hazard to support culture of safety
  •      You look out for colleagues and for signs of fatigue in them (1, 2)

7. Measure, monitor, and learn from your fatigue data

First and foremost, be sure your incident investigation process allows you to collect timely data that can tell you more about a worker’s level of fatigue if an incident or near-miss happens.

If someone was injured, are you collecting information that tells you about the length of duty time prior to the incident, as just one example? Are you able to collect information about how much sleep they got before the incident? What about information about their job rotation? Those are just a few examples of what could be relevant for you to ask and collect (1, 2).

Monitoring and acting on data will be one of the best ways to deal with fatigue in any organization. To start, it helps you identify your key areas of risk so you know where to focus. Second, it helps you identify short-and long-term trends, so you understand issues and continuously take steps to help combat fatigue. Last, it helps you answer questions like, “What do we do next?” when you see you have an opportunity or problem.  

One thing to remember: if you have a low level of reporting to start, don’t think that’s necessarily a good sign. Low levels of reporting might mean workers are afraid to report fatigue-related issues or it may mean they don’t have a clear, simple way to report those issues or hazards (1, 2).

Improve Your Fatigue Risk Management System

Looking for more actionable and practical tips to fight and manage fatigue? Listen to The SafetyPro Podcast for a deep dive on must-know strategies to fight a “fatigue culture” in your organization. Find podcast episode 65 here.

Create a Successful Fatigue Risk Management System with iReportSource

With added accountability, audit tracking and trails, and a digitized workflow, iReportSource helps you own safety in your company. With iReportSource, you can record and report safety incidents from anywhere—plus you can see what you need to do next to reduce or minimize those hazards and risks in the future. Learn more about iReportSouce today.

Sources:

  1.   https://www.nsc.org/Portals/0/Documents/Fatigue%20Documents/managing-workplace-fatigue.pdf?ver=2019-02-12-194121-193

2. https://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/articles/2011_q2/5/