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Managing fatigue in the workplace

Friday, February 28, 2014 by Chris Hocking

sleeping disorders

Fatigue, tiredness, sleepiness and drowsiness have become interchangeable terms which all point to a serious problem in the workplace – high risk of injury, lost productivity and impact on the bottom line.

Fatigue, but more specifically 'drowsiness' which is the dangerous state before sleep, combined with a hectic work schedule can wreak havoc on our health and safety.

Shift workers are most likely to suffer injuries and illnesses caused by drowsiness, as they are the type of workers who tend to work against their natural body clock. Generally, shift workers have to fight against their circadian rhythm in order to stay awake during the night – when they are programmed to sleep – and sleep during the day, when they are programmed to be awake.

A great amount of shift work involves long-distance driving, so those who drive during the times their bodies are programmed to be sleeping – between midnight at 6am – are six times more likely to be involved in a car or truck accident than other workers.

Basic company 'fatigue management' means employers or managers know the risks to identify and how these risks can be appropriately addressed. Managing fatigue and the dangerous state of drowsiness in the workplace can help to lower the chance of an injury or accident.

Causes of drowsiness

It's common for people to misdiagnose feeling overtired or overworked with fatigue or drowsiness, mostly because the desire to sleep is associated. Chronic drowsiness though, can be a long-term debilitating condition, normally traced back to a lifestyle habit. The most common determinants of fatigue include:

Drowsiness and fatigue prevention

Shift workers and long distance truck drivers are some of the groups that are most susceptible to fatigue-related conditions and injuries due to the irregular nature of their work. In fact, shift workers increase their risk by almost six times of having an accident caused by drowsiness.

Extended hours of work, shift work, or second jobs are all very real factors that can contribute to employee drowsiness. Employers should always be aware of any overtime work and impose limits on the number of hours employees can work in a given day or week.

The first step towards prevention is accurate fatigue management. This is when employers should conduct assessments of their staff to identify possible instances or causes related to drowsiness.

A risk assessment will identify:

  • Which workers are likely to experience drowsiness (Night shift workers, truck drivers, and those who work long hours.)
  • Their hours of work (How many hours are they working per week? How many hours do they have for rest between shifts?)
  • The time of day they are working (Are they working nights? How many night shifts are they working per week?)
  • What actions can be taken (Could you implement weekly rotating schedules?)

Managers and employers should be trained in identifying risks and implementing appropriate actions to ensure health and safety of all employees.

Risk management software

Optalert's advanced technology can actually detect levels of drowsiness for workers, and converts these results into data and valuable reporting tools for employers or risk managers.

Optalert's software is made up of the following components:

  • Drowsiness detection glasses: The glasses measure the velocity of a user's eyelids at a rate of 500 times per second and converts these measurements into a JDS™ score.
  • Processing unit: The JDS™ score is sent to the processing unit and is displayed so the user can see their individual risk level in real time while working.
  • Individual Risk Indicator System IRIS™: This system displays the alertness of a company's entire team. The 24 hour display and data collection assists teams to identify irregular patterns or instances where urgent action may be required.

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