The Impact of Fatigue and 10 Ways to Mitigate the Risks

If one of your employees is sleeping on the job, he may actually be doing you a favor. Lack of adequate sleep is a major risk factor for injuries, errors, and chronic diseases. In fact, ‘shiftwork sleep disorder’ has been deemed a carcinogen because of the increased risk of breast cancer.


Those most at risk are workers with frequent overnight shifts, rotating shifts, or early morning start times. While you may not be able to change the need for workers on shifts other than daytimes, there are strategies you can take that can help employees be less fatigued and save you significant amounts of money.



The Sobering Stats


Employers and payers are likely unaware of the stunning costs associated with workplace fatigue. Here are the numbers for a hypothetical Florida construction company with 800 workers:


  • Decreased productivity: $590,463
  • Absenteeism: $249,962
  • Healthcare: $458,075


The National Safety Council’s Fatigue Cost Calculator also estimates the number of employees likely suffering from specific sleep risks at this sample company:


  • Obstructive sleep apnea: 101
  • Insomnia: 69
  • Restless Legs Syndrome: 40
  • Shift work disorder: 1


‘Shiftwork sleep disorder’ occurs when a person’s internal clock becomes misaligned with his sleep/wake schedule due to shift work. Those affected may experience excessive sleepiness during night work and/or insomnia during daytime sleep.


The good news is the potential savings from taking simple actions to mitigate all these conditions are $625,250.


The safety risks associated with fatigued workers is higher among night-shift workers and increases with each succeeding night


Overall statistics show:


  • The risk of injury or accident on the night shift is 30 percent higher than on the day shift
  • The risks are 36 percent higher on the fourth consecutive night shift compared to the first
  • 13 percent of workplace injuries are due to fatigue problems.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board says fatigue is a contributing factor in 20 percent of its investigations
  • Employer costs for one worker with an untreated sleep disorder are $3,500.
  • Up to 90 percent of sleep disorders go untreated.


In addition to safety risks, fatigue affects cognitive functions and reduces a person’s attention, vigilance and memory. Fatigued workers are slower, less productive and more likely to make errors. And fatigue is also a high-risk factor for developing chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. One study showed that two consecutive nights with less than six hours of sleep are associated with lower performance levels for six days.



10 Ways to Mitigate the Risks of Workplace Fatigue


Employers should become educated and inform their employees about the problems and costs associated with fatigue. They can also look within their organizations to find the causes of fatigue.


Additionally, employers can consider some or all of the following strategies:


  1. Forward-rotate shifts, such as day to afternoon to night.
  2. Increase rest time between shifts.
  3. Limit the number of consecutive night shifts
  4. Slowly rotate shifts to reduce the impact on sleep schedules, the Panama shift schedule is a good example
  5. Promote an appropriate culture. If workers are rewarded for work they do after hours or by working longer than is typical, employees will get the message that they need to work excessively to get ahead. Instead, reward employees or teams that meet or exceed their goals within normal work hours.
  6. Discourage after-hours work. Rather than sending emails and expecting responses during off-hours, set boundaries for work to be done within certain hours, where possible.
  7. Encourage PTO usage. Workers who feel they should forego paid vacations or work when they are sick are getting the wrong message – and burning themselves out. They not only are risking their own safety and wellbeing, but could be infecting other employees.
  8. Support flextime. A one-hour start-time difference may make a big difference to some employees. Where possible, allow workers to set the hours that best accommodate their sleep needs.
  9. Provide rest areas. A short, 20-minute power nap can make a tremendous difference to at-risk workers for fatigue. Provide a location where employees can rest if the worksite allows for this benefit. Several Fortune 500 companies now provide ‘nap rooms’ for employees.
  10. Avoid screen time. Using a phone or tablet just before bed can activate areas of the brain that make it more difficult to fall asleep. Encourage workers to turn off their electronic devices when going to bed.





Lack of sleep may be costing your company hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the number of employees and their work schedules. Being aware of the costs associated with fatigued workers and taking action to ensure workers get enough rest can significantly help your bottom line.



Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center .



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