Can Sleep Deprivation Lead to Workplace Injuries?

Topics: Workers' Compensation

Every occupation comes with its own set of risks. Whether you are a waiter in a restaurant, a retail employee or a construction worker, there is a strong possibility you face workplace hazards ranging from minor to life-threatening every day.

Sleep Deprivation and Workplace Injuries

the effects of sleep deprivation on a construction worker

While some occupations can be much more hazardous in scope than others (a roofer versus a school teacher), there is one hazard that just about every occupation faces, and it’s often overlooked: sleep deprivation.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of American adults are sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation causes fatigue, and when in combination with long stretches of demanding physical and/or mental work can lead to serious injuries and costly workers’ compensation claims. Imagine an employee handling sharp knives or heavy machinery without adequate rest and not working at full attention – the results could be devastating.

Fatigue is different from just being “tired” – it’s something that develops over time from a consistent lack of sleep and routinely disrupted circadian rhythms. Fatigue can affect an employee in a multitude of ways:
  • Impairs the ability to make decisions quickly and clearly
  • Decreases concentration, causing the mind to wander or cause the worker to just “go through the motions” rather than sharply focusing on the task at hand
  • Decreases effort-level and production
  • Causes physical ailments such as irritability, drowsiness and muscle pain
According to the National Safety Council’s report, Fatigue in the Workplace: Causes & Consequences of Employee Fatigue, “97% of workers have at least one workplace fatigue risk factor and more than 80% have two or more. When multiple risk factors are present, the potential for injuries on the job increases.”

Several factors can contribute to fatigue, such as age, health or the job function itself – like performing repetitive tasks with little variation causing a lack of mental stimulation, or a job role that requires extensive travel that doesn’t allow for a more normalized schedule.

Overnight Employees and Lack of Sleep

One factor that plays a substantial role in fatigue is the time of day an employee works. This is most evident with overnight/night shift employees. Human beings are programmed to be active during the day and sleep at night. A disruption to this cycle (known as the “circadian rhythm”) can lead to fatigue. Certain occupations, however, go against this rhythm. Nurses, paramedics, police officers, firefighters, commercial truck drivers, even some retail occupations can all require employees to work the night shift. These employees are more at risk because they are awake when their body is typically geared for sleep. Employees on rotating shifts (alternating between day and night work) are less likely to adapt to the night shift, which further compounds the problem.

The National Safety Council has performed extensive research on the topic of fatigue and offers a wide range of helpful information on the subject, including white papers, reports, infographics, safety talks, digital presentations and more.

Helping Your Employees Combat the Effects of Sleep Deprivation and Fatigue

Combatting sleep deprivation and fatigue takes effort on the part of both employers and employees. Encourage your employees to maintain a regular sleep schedule in order to by making sure they get adequate rest each night – it’s recommended that adults aged 26-64 receive seven to nine hours a night.

One possible solution is to set up a workshop program to discuss proper sleeping habits with your employees, and provide a wellness assessment to evaluate your workforce’s health – and whether or not they are getting the proper rest.

Be sure to communicate to your workforce not only the importance of getting enough sleep, but the dangers of working while suffering from fatigue. If your company already has an established workplace safety program, expand it by adding a section to address sleep deprivation and fatigue.

Here are a few additional examples of policies you can introduce:

Set a maximum hours limit. Incorporate a policy that sets a maximum number of hours that an employee can work each week. As an example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) instituted rules for truck drivers beginning in 2011: no more than 60 hours on-duty over seven consecutive days, and drivers may be on duty for up to 14 hours following 10 hours off duty, but are limited to 11 hours of driving time.

Set rules for taking breaks. Establish company rules for employees to take at least a 30-minute lunch break. Include additional breaks throughout the day, including a 15-minute morning break as well as an afternoon break. Using the truck driver rules mentioned above as an example, the FMSCA states that drivers must take a mandatory 30-minute break by their eighth hour of coming on duty.

Offer compensation time. When an employee puts in extra hours, offer those hours back to them in the form of compensatory time – therefore incentivizing them to get additional rest from work. Additionally, offer employees who work additional hours priority for vacation requests ahead of others working normal schedules.

We Are Your Workers’ Compensation Coverage and Risk Management Solution

Having a comprehensive risk management program in place can help minimize the presence and impact of workplace hazards, including those from sleep deprivation and fatigue. AmTrust is here to help. Our comprehensive loss control resources combined with our workers’ compensation coverage can protect your small business and employees. For more information, please contact us today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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