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Safety Management Insights

Job Safety: The Biggest Workplace Hazard You’re Probably Missing

Posted by Don Brown on Oct 15, 2014 9:00:00 AM

workplace_hazard_sleepThe biggest danger in your workplace may not be as obvious as you think. It’s not necessarily the heavy machinery, the ladders or even the hazardous chemicals. 

It’s the danger your workers pose to themselves and others when they’re sleep-deprived. 

Almost 15 million Americans work full-time on a night shift or rotating schedule that can disrupt their sleep habits, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many of them are making longer commutes that cut into their evenings or early mornings, and they’re racking up overtime hours, too. You might even hear them bragging about the fact that they’re still going strong on just a couple hours of sleep, as if it’s a badge of honor. 

Let’s face it: Sleep doesn’t get the respect it deserves in our culture. In our 90-mile-an-hour world, sleep is seen as luxury—even a waste of time—instead of a necessity. 

Yet worker fatigue is a serious problem that can lead to a greater risk of illnesses and injuries. The National Institution of Occupational Safety and Health cites a number of studies that have shown this over the past two decades. 

One study found working 12 or more hours was associated with an increased risk of back disorders, leg pain and stomach problems for healthcare workers. An analysis of 1.2 million injury reports from two national databases in Germany showed the risk for injury was significantly higher after the eighth or ninth hour at work. A United States study showed similar results, noting hospital workers were more likely to accidentally stick themselves with needles or expose themselves to biological fluids in the last two hours of a 12-hour shift

Sleep deprivation affects muscle coordination and concentration so much that being awake for more than 21 hours is equivalent to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08, research has shown

Shorter shifts aren’t always possible, and you can’t monitor your workers after hours to make sure they’re getting enough shut-eye. But there are several ways to keep worker fatigue from leading to recordable injuries. Here are three job safety tips to help you prevent fatigue in the workplace. 

Keep Accurate Records of Work Hours

Schedules change. People call off, and others seize the opportunity to pick up the slack. Take a close look at how working hours are being documented, even if that’s not in your job description. If your supervisors are relying on the previous week’s schedule to fill in timecards—or relying on the honor system—there could be some significant discrepancies that impact more than just your company’s productivity. If workers are coming in early or being asked by a supervisor to stay late, you could be violating labor laws and putting your workers at risk. 

Require workers to clock in, and maintain a digital database of hours that only approved administrators can edit. Avoid back-to-back shifts whenever possible, even if workers are eager to make some extra cash by volunteering to pick up an early shift after working late. 

Train Workers To Recognize Fatigue

We all know what it’s like to feel tired, but your workers need to recognize when it’s more than that. 

Your new employee training programs should include awareness of how to spot worker fatigue and what to do about it. 

Signs of fatigue include:

  • Weariness

  • Irritability

  • Reduced alertness and lack of concentration

  • Headache 

  • Giddiness

  • Loss of appetite or digestive problems

Track Incidents

If you’re not properly documenting incidents and injuries, you may never know you have a problem with fatigue in the workplace. 

Using an incident reporting and investigation software allows you to keep track of any workplace injuries and recognize contributing factors. With each incident or injury, be sure to note if the worker or workers involved had been working for an extended period of time. Take time to step back and look at your incident data to determine if there are any trends that raise concerns. 

You most likely have a drug and alcohol policy to prevent employees from working while impaired. Remember that fatigue can impair their ability to perform a job safely and effectively just as much as being legally intoxicated. Using an integrated safety software system like ours can help you keep track of incidents and near-misses that could be caused by fatigue. 

Want to learn more about how BasicSafe can help you manage worker fatigue and prevent incidents? For a limited time, we’re offering a 90-day trial of all nine of our safety software tools for just $50 per month. To learn more about our 90-day trial, visit our website.

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