Fatigue is the state of feeling very tired, weary, or sleepy because of too little or inadequate sleep, prolonged mental or physical work, or extended periods of stress or anxiety. Boring or repetitive tasks can intensify feelings of fatigue.
On average we need at least 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep every day. While it’s always possible to reverse a short-lived or “acute” state of fatigue by catching up on sleep and rest, chronic fatigue may require a doctor’s intervention.
The photo of today’s infographic lists the telltale signs that you’re tired, explains how it affects our health and safety at work, and offers tips for both workers and employers to help fight fatigue.
When we talk about fatigue, we’re not just talking about the occasional mid-afternoon slump where you could really use a nap.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety defines fatigue as “the state of feeling very tired, weary, or sleepy resulting from insufficient sleep, prolonged mental or physical work, or extended periods of stress or anxiety.” There are two types: acute and chronic.
- Acute fatigue is the result of short-term sleep loss or short periods of heavy physical or mental work. The effects are not ongoing and can generally be reversed with sleep and relaxation.
- Chronic fatigue, on the other hand, is a constant and severe state of tiredness that can’t be fixed by rest. While the specific cause isn’t known, symptoms are flu-like, last six months or more, and can interfere with certain activities.
Studies suggest that fatigue is made worse by factors such as:
- Dim lighting
- High temperatures
- High noise levels
- High comfort
- Tasks that have to be sustained for a long time
- Long, repetitive, boring, or monotonous tasks
Is Fatigue Really a Workplace Issue?
In a single word: absolutely.
Fatigue is a form of impairment, and research shows that staying awake for long periods without adequate rest produces a similar effect to increased blood alcohol levels. As one study reports:
- 17 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05
- 21 hours awake is equivalent to a BAC of 0.08 (the legal limit for impaired driving in Canada)
- 24-25 hours awake is equivalent to a BAC of 0.10
it was noted that the risk of making a mistake while on the job increases significantly if workers have less than the average 7.5 hours of sleep or are awake for more than 17 consecutive hours. And while some mistakes may not be of much significance, others can have costly consequences for the worker, his or her coworkers, and the business as a whole.
Unfortunately, statistics that directly measure how many accidents, injuries, or mistakes happen due to fatigue are hard to come by. Since fatigue levels are difficult to quantify, it’s nearly impossible to isolate the effect it has on accident and injury rates.
Experts suggest that most workplace accidents occur during the hours that people tend to want to sleep – between midnight and 6:00 am, and between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm. And a study from the U.S. Department of Transportation found that working the night shift increases an individual’s accident risk by 11 percent.
Fatigue influences hazard exposures by:
- Reducing physical and mental function
- Impairing concentration, judgment, and reaction time
- Decreasing motivation
- Increasing risk-taking behavior
Businesses also suffer, with studies reporting a number of costly effects related to fatigue:
- Increased sick time, absenteeism, and employee turnover
- Reduced productivity and performance
- Higher medical costs
- Increased incident rates
While fatigue can have an impact on anyone, most studies have focused on shift workers, healthcare professionals, and drivers. Those most at risk include workers whose jobs involve putting in long hours for many days in a row while sometimes being exposed to harsh environmental conditions (such as inclement weather, excessive noise, and even heavy mental loads). People who work multiple jobs are also at high risk of fatigue.
Recognizing Fatigue in the Workplace
It’s not always easy to spot fatigue in an employee, and in many cases, the onus is on the worker to recognize the symptoms.
Signs to look out for include:
- Tiredness or sleepiness (including nodding off and falling asleep against your will)
- Reduced alertness and concentration
- Memory issues
- Lack of motivation
- Loss of appetite
- Increased susceptibility to illness
If you notice these signs and symptoms in yourself or someone else, it’s important to address them immediately. ( see Workplace Wellness Initiatives to Improve Workplace Safety to learn more)
What Employers Can Do to Help
As an employer, you can’t control your workers’ sleep habits, but you can provide a work atmosphere conducive to reducing fatigue and support workers getting enough rest between shifts.
Create a Comfortable Atmosphere
You want to strike a balance: the workplace should not create discomfort, but it also shouldn’t be so comfortable that workers are tempted to fall asleep. Good lighting and a comfortable temperature are especially important. If possible, noise levels should be kept reasonable throughout shifts.
Vary Work Tasks
Since repetitive, boring tasks can exacerbate fatigue, employers should make an effort to vary workers’ tasks as much as possible. This keeps workers more engaged and interested in the work throughout their shift.
Establish Regular Eating Times for Workers
Skipping meals or eating at irregular times can provoke fatigue and food cravings. Make sure workers have regularly scheduled times to take their meals and breaks – and enforce the breaks to make sure workers are getting the rest they need. You may even consider offering prepared meals or a variety of healthy snacks.
Offer Education and Training
Employers should include fatigue and its associated risks in their safety training to create awareness of the effects of fatigue, how to prevent it, and strategies for staying alert. Posters and other visual materials can also remind workers to get enough rest (see is-fatigue-a-hidden-but-deadly-workplace-epidemic to learn more).
Use Overtime Sparingly
While overtime is sometimes unavoidable, it shouldn’t become an everyday occurrence. Many workers fail to take enough time off because of financial strain, and overtime pay can be tempting. Limit the number of time employees can work in any given week, and keep track of how many hours they have worked to ensure they’re given enough time to rest.
Provide Employee Support
Finally, it’s critical to foster a workplace culture where workers feel comfortable expressing their concerns. Reinforce the fact that there’s no shame in needing time off and make sure there are open lines of communication between management and workers.
Fatigue is more than just feeling like you need a nap. It’s a serious workplace concern that affects the health and safety of employees – and it’s arguably an issue that should be addressed by all levels of government and public health officials.
Recognizing fatigue as a workplace issue and doing your part to combat it is an important step in protecting your workers – and your business.
Fatigue at Work
- Infographic: First Aid for Cuts and Scrapes free download
- Photo of The day: Work Safe with Lasers-Laser Safety free
- Photo of the day: Working Safely with chemicals and chemical Management
- Photo of the day: Safe work practices when using MEWPs ( updated)
- Photo of the day: Preventing Common Kitchen Hazards
- Photo of the day: Safe handling of Gas Cylinders and lecture bottles
- Photo of the day: Forklift Stability Triangle
- Photo of the day: Defective Tools Safe Work Practice
- Photo of the day: Lift With Your Legs Not With Your Back
- Photo of the day: First Aid for burns
- Photo of the day: The 7 Principles of HACCP
- Photo of the day: Working Safely with Suspended Loads
- Photo of the day: Heat Stroke First Aid and safety posters
- Photo of the day: Near-Miss Reporting and Posters
- Photo of the day: Ergonomic chair and office chair safety tips
- Photo of the day: Whole Body Vibration
- Photo of the day: Substation Safety Equipment
- Photo of the day: Bypassing Safety Controls Rules
- Photo of the day: Lightning Safety Tips
- Photo of the day: Overhead Power lines Clearance
- Photo of the day: Floor Marking
- Photo of the day: Types of Foot Protection
- Photo of the day: Types of Hand Protection
- Photo of the day: Lockout and Tagout Safety
- Photo of the day: Fall Protection Plans
- Photo of the day: Flood Safety Tips
- Photo of the day: Read All Labels Work safe
- Photo of the day: Run Project safely with Crane Hand Signals
- Photo of the day: Flagman and Traffic control
- Photo of the day: Managing Risks of Exposure to Solvents in the workplace
- Photo of the day: Scissor Lift Safety
- Photo of the day: HSE Bulletin Board
- Photo of the day: Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI)
- Photo of the day: Safe use of ladders and step ladders
- Photo of the day: Concrete Truck Driver Hand Signals
- Photo of the day: Extension Cord Safety Tips
- Photo of the day: Protect your Head
- Photo of the day: choosing the right Anchorage
- Photo of the day: Work-Related Asthma
- Photo of the day: Top FIVE Heavy Equipment Construction Site Safety Tips
- Photo of the day: sun safety in the workplace
- Photo of the day: Cannabis and Impairment in the Workplace
- Photo of the day: Position for safety and comfort-Safety Tips
- Photo of the day: Generator Safety
- Photo of the day: Controlling COVID-19 in the Workplace-Physical Barriers
- Photo of the day: Manual Material handling
- Photo of the day: Personal Protective Equipment last resort
- Photo of the day: WHMIS 2015 – Pictograms
- Photo of the day: Indoor Air Quality
- Photo of the day: Noise in the affected workplace
- Photo of the day: Fatigue at Work
- Photo of the day: Don’t be Driven to Distraction
- Photo of the day: working in heat and Humidex Rating
- How to use Plate Clamps Safely: Safety Moment#34
- Photo of the day: Sitting at work
- Photo of the day: 5 ways to reduce the risk of Slipping and Tripping
- Photo of the day: Preventing the spread of contagious illness
- Photo of the day: Incident Investigations
- Photo of the day: 10 Scaffold Safety Essentials
- Photo of the day: Effective Health and Safety Committees
- Photo of the day: New worker Orientation & Safety Orientation checklist
- Photo of the day: Workplace Inspection
- Photo of the day: musculoskeletal disorders
- Photo of the day: Emergency preparedness in the workplace
- Photo of the day: Mental health in the workplace
- Photo of the day: Trenching Safety Tips That Can Save a Life
- Photo of the day: Dangerous Goods Classes
- Photo of the day: Safety Equipment for Confined Spaces
- Photo of the day: Tips to reduce Heat stress in the workplace
- Photo of the day: hierarchy of controls
- Your steps to chemical safety
- H2S Gas and how to handle its Emergency
- Photo of the day: Importance of Mock drill and Fire Action Emergency Procedure
- Photo of the day: Choosing the Right Face Mask and the difference between a respirator and face mask
- Photo of the day: Confined space safety Precautions
- Breath Safely: The Proper Use of Respiratory Protection
- Photo of the day: Electric shock survival
- Photo of the day: Chemical Spill Emergency Response
- Photo of the day: Construction Site fire Safety
- Photo of the day: Confined Space rescue
- Photo of the day: Conveyors Safety Tips
- Photo of the day: 5 Essential outcomes of an effective leadership survey process
- Photo of the day: Safe Lifting at work
- Photo of the day: 5 Ways to Reinforce Commuting With Positive Reinforcement
- Photo of the day: Eyes on the Road The challenges of safe driving
- Photo of the day: Overhead powerline safety
- Photo of the day: Top10 Injuries in office work
- Photo of the day: You can prevent workplace Falls
- Photo of the day: 8 Basic steps to wear a safety harness
- Photo of the day: Ladder Safety Tips
- Photo of the day: Fire Emergency