Blog /

6 Unavoidable Causes of Fatigue in the Workplace and How to Manage Them

Unavoidable fatigue in the workplace

Fatigue in the workplace is a major contributor to risk. A recent study featured in Safety + Health Magazine stated that 3 in 5 people feel more tired now than they’ve ever felt before. An otherwise robust safety management system can still see a surprising number of incidents if it doesn’t account for the effects of tiredness. Exhaustion, sleep deficit, and overworking are invisible hazards, and it’s crucial to identify their causes.

According to the National Safety Council, “safety performance decreases as employees become tired.” That’s why fatigue is so dangerous. The NSC goes on to note that 42% of workers are sleep-deprived, with almost a third of workers getting less than six hours of sleep a night. Clearly, fatigue casts an unavoidable shadow on the workplace.

One of the challenges in dealing with fatigue is that, like other human factors, fatigue levels are in constant flux. Many of the causes of fatigue are specific to individual workers—an employee with a new baby or a sick family member at home may be getting less sleep than usual, while the rest of the workforce remains unaffected.

However, some causes of fatigue can influence a large segment of workers at the same time, inviting a crowd of human factors into the workplace. It’s important for safety professionals to recognize when those times of widespread fatigue are likely to impact your workforce.

Daylight saving time

Just how dangerous are the effects of moving clocks ahead by an hour? As one safety poster for daylight saving time puts it: “Every year, daylight saving time contributes to a rise in injuries and fatalities. There are more fatal car crashes following the time change and people are more likely to make mistakes, become distracted, have trouble concentrating and their reaction times are slower.” However you look at it, it’s clear that fatigue creates an elevated risk of incidents in the week following daylight saving time.

End of the shift, end of the week

It’s an old trope of sitcoms and beer commercials: we’re all tired at the end of the day. After a long week of work, we’re exhausted and just want to put our feet up. While this stereotype is great for selling beer or setting up a punchline, it also has dramatic implications for workplace safety.

People are understandably fatigued as their days and weeks draw to a close. Employees who are in the last couple hours of a shift are at a greater risk of fatigue, which can lead to injuries, production errors, and other potentially costly incidents. Savvy supervisors will also keep a keen eye out for the effects of fatigue at the end of the week. After all, exhaustion and sleep deficit add up, meaning a culture of tiresome Fridays can become increasingly dangerous if it’s not addressed.

Changes in the production schedule

In many industries, sudden shifts in production schedules are an unavoidable fact of life. When workers are asked to produce faster than usual, many human factors can come into play. Rushing is the most notable one, but don’t sleep on the dangers of fatigue either. The harder workers are pushed, the quicker they tire themselves out. And if they aren’t allowed adequate time to rest and recover, their levels of fatigue can mount, potentially leading to a serious injury or fatality.

Around the holidays

Every year, the holidays arrive bearing several seasonal workplace concerns. One of them is fatigue. Between the effects of shorter days, exhaustion from holiday preparation and events, and general tiredness at the end of the year, fatigue is bound to be an issue in the workplace. As the holidays approach, it’s important for EHS professionals to recognize the ways in which employees’ safety might be compromised, and to then take steps to mitigate the risk of incidents.

Sports, award shows, and cultural events

Football players understand the importance of a good night’s sleep before a big day of work, but the same can’t be said about sports fans. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 39% of Americans feel either somewhat or extremely tired the day after the Super Bowl. And of course they do, it’s a major event that is famous for overindulging in food, drink, and late-night excitement. What it doesn’t call for is sleep, and that can be dangerous on Monday morning.

It’s not just the Super Bowl keeping people up. It’s the Olympics. It’s the World Series. It’s the NBA Finals. It’s all major cultural touchstones. People stay up late to see who will win an Oscar, to watch election results and to celebrate Independence Day. Because these events happen relatively infrequently, it can be easy to overlook their impact. But make no mistake, when large segments of your workforce are all staying up late and/or expending enough energy that they’ll be sluggish the next day, there are bound to be fatigue-related challenges as a result.

Changes in the workforce

A change in the workforce can cause stress and anxiety which contribute to fatigue. Every business has a certain rate of employee turnover—the number of employees who quit every year and leave vacant positions that need to be filled. It’s hard enough to deal with worker turnover when it happens at a steady, predictable rate but there can be notable safety consequences due to unexpected employee turnover.

A large number of vacant positions means everyone is stretched thin, while a large crop of new employees means that experienced workers have to work harder to onboard the recent hires. In both cases, the result is an uptick in fatigue. This means that safety professionals have to be doing double duty as they try to manage the increased tiredness in their workforce while providing proper safety orientations to the new workers. This can compound the problem even further as it leaves them fatigued too.

There are many more unavoidable causes of fatigue beyond this list. From decision fatigue to the effects of stress to plain old exhaustion, there are many different ways this risk multiplier can descend on the workplace. The best defense against fatigue is having workers who have been trained to recognize and respond to human factors in real time.

Supervisors and safety professionals can take fatigue mitigation a step further by anticipating when workers are most likely to be dangerously tired. By taking a look at the list above, and considering additional times or events that could wear out a workforce, safety folks can be prepared to step in as necessary, whether it’s with additional toolbox talks, reminders about human factors, or other interventions that could help protect people from the risks of exhaustion.

On-demand webinar

Dead Tired: What Every Company Must Know About Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most significant issues that companies face in every industry, as it affects safety, quality and productivity. Workers aren’t just tired—they’re dangerously impaired. This presentation will help you develop a plan to manage fatigue both corporately and individually.

Watch now

Tagged , , , ,