Safety group calls fatigue an epidemic in U.S. workplaces

July 27, 2017
According to a National Safety Council survey, 43% American workers admit they may be too tired to function safely at work.

According to a new National Safety Council (NSC) survey, 43% of the American workers polled said they do not get enough sleep to mitigate “critical risks” that can jeopardize safety at work and on the roads, including the ability to think clearly, make informed decisions and be productive.

The group’s poll also found that 81% of the probability-based survey respondents hold jobs that are at high risk for fatigue – positions that require sustained attention or are physically or cognitively demanding, such as driving a vehicle or working at a construction site.

According to the NSC’s survey-based report, Fatigue in the Workplace: Causes & Consequences of Employee Fatigue, some 97% of Americans admit they have at least one of the leading nine risk factors for fatigue, which include working at night or in the early morning, working long shifts without regular breaks, working more than 50 hours each week and enduring long commutes.

About 76% of Americans say they feel tired at work, 53% feel less productive, and 44% have trouble focusing, NSC said. The group stressed that fatigued employees are more likely to make safety critical errors that could lead to injury, such as crashing their vehicle.

“These findings are a literal wake-up call: When we’re tired, we can put ourselves and others at risk,” noted Deborah Hersman, NSC’s president and CEO, in a statement. “We hope Americans recognize that impairment stems not just from alcohol and drugs, but lack of restorative rest – fitness for duty starts with getting a good night’s sleep.”

Fatigue impacts most Americans and, in turn, every workforce – too often resulting in disaster, she added.

A person who loses two hours of sleep from a normal eight-hour sleep schedule may be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers, NSC noted in its report.

The group pointed out that an estimated 13% of workplace injuries could be attributed to fatigue, while 21% of all fatal car crashes – 6,400 deaths each year – are attributed to a drowsy driver

The survey – the entirety of which will be released in three separate reports – also found:

  • 41% work high-risk hours, at least occasionally.
  • 39% have trouble remembering things at work because of fatigue.
  • 31% commute 30 minutes or more, which exacerbates the chances of falling asleep behind the wheel.
  • 27% have trouble making decisions because of fatigue.
  • 10% do not get regular rest breaks.

There are geographical trends when it comes to the number of Americans with fatigue risk factors as well, NSC noted, as its survey identified that the South has the highest mean number of risk factors at 3.21, while the Midwest has the lowest with 2.94 risk factors. 

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