Why Fatigue at Work is a Major Safety Issue

Everyone has that time of the day at work where you need an energy boost. For some, it’s when you first roll in and others need that 3 p.m. pick me up.  

But when feeling a little tired turns into downright exhaustion, you have a problem  Fatigue at work can range from annoying to just plain dangerous. It can also be acute or chronic. Acute is the result of short-term sleep loss or heavy physical work. Chronic is a constant state of tiredness and can be severe. 

Know the Signs

It’s not only important to know the signs of fatigue for yourself, but also your coworkers. They are wide-ranging and vary depending on the person. They can include sleepiness, irritability, reduced alertness, lack of motivation, red eyes, depression, giddiness, headaches, loss of appetite, digestive problems and increased susceptibility to illness. 

It Can Greatly Affect You at Work

No matter what kind of job you have, fatigue can have a big impact on your performance and can increase your chances of making a mistake. Studies have shown that getting less than five hours of sleep is not that different from being intoxicated and injuries are over three times more likely to occur at work. Fatigue can impact your ability to make decisions, communication skills, productivity, ability to handle stress, reaction time, ability to recall details, increase forgetfulness and increase errors in judgement. 

The Workplace is a Major Cause

While there is no doubt that outside factors such as sleep disorders or medication may cause fatigue, the workplace has a major influence on how tired we feel. Shift workers and those in precarious work positions are especially susceptible to workplace fatigue. Some work factors can include long work hours, insufficient break time, changes to jobs or shift rotations, working multiple jobs, excessive stress, limited visual activity, tasks which must be sustained for long periods of temperature, high noise or temperature and dim lighting. 

Solutions to Fatigue

There are steps that you can personally take to make sure that you are not overtired. Make sure you’re hydrated throughout the day and eat a balanced diet that isn’t too heavy. Exercise and a proper sleep schedule are also essential, but your workplace should step up to help you with fatigue. You schedule should allow for you to have proper breaks during and between your shifts. If you’re working long shifts with frequent overtime it’s essential that your employer provide you with meals and facilities where you can sleep. One of the best ways to ensure this happens is by having representation in the workplace. Unions can create a binding collective agreement that ensures your shifts are safe and scheduled at the right time. You won’t be forced to drive home after working extreme hours or punished for speaking out about feeling fatigued. 

Health and safety at work should be an employers’ top priority. When there are clear physical health violations it’s easier for employees to report and for safety officers to inspect and reprimand. What is harder to address is fatigue, but it’s perhaps one of the biggest health and safety risks in workplaces across Alberta. 


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