Almost everyone is susceptible to workplace fatigue, an all-too-common occurrence in our fast-paced society. Many factors (physical, psychological, direct, and indirect), can impact a person’s level of fatigue. Whether someone works in a commercial business or for the government, from office employees to military contractors, fatigue can be a breeding ground for mishaps, incidents, and accidents, with tragic or near-tragic outcomes.
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Fatigue Risks in the Workplace
According to OSHA, “Fatigue is a message to the body to rest. It is not a problem if the person can and does rest. However, if rest is not possible, fatigue can increase until it becomes distressing and eventually debilitating. The symptoms of fatigue, both mental and physical, vary and depend on the person and his or her degree of overexertion.” Some examples include feeling tired, weariness, sleepiness, irritability, reduced alertness, lack of concentration and memory and increased susceptibility to illness, injury and depression.
Needless to say, workplace fatigue results in many dangerous safety-related consequences like reduced decision-making ability, poor judgement, slowed reaction, distraction or loss of awareness in critical situations.
How to Manage Worker Fatigue
Although rest is important, getting enough sleep is the most important way to combat fatigue. Yet, something as simple as getting enough sleep may not be an easy thing to do. Shift workers—those who work outside a 9 to 5 work daycare particularly susceptible. The quality of sleep is important too, thus, avoid big meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime. Regular exercise helps reduce stress and improve sleep. Lastly, remember to drink plenty of water and be diligent about what you eat during a workday.
For employers, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s (ACOEM) Presidential Task Force on Fatigue Risk Management released a guidance document to provide background, key concepts and references needed to promote and support a fatigue risk management system (FRMS). An FRMS is defined as “a scientifically based, data-driven addition or alternative to prescriptive hours of work limitations which manages employee fatigue in a flexible manner appropriate to the level of risk exposure and the nature of operation.” An FRMS requires a senior manager to be ultimately accountable for managing fatigue risk. However, all key stakeholders need to be actively engaged, according to the task force. Also, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published Safety & Health Requirements Engineering Manual, EM 385-1-1 document is an excellent resource on fatigue management plans, known as FMP. It can be found in Section 1, Program Management.