Fatigue in the Workplace: Myths vs. Realities

Even though there is plenty of information showing the serious risk that fatigue presents, it is not commonly recognized as the significant risk to safety and productivity that it really is–at least not until a fatigue-related safety incident occurs in our workplaces. So what assumptions do we often hold that lead us to ignore or downplay the serious risk posed by fatigue until something bad happens?

Myth 1:My employees do not have problems with fatigue.

Reality: Fatigue is not a problem among your employees–until it is. Your employees are human beings, and no human being is immune to fatigue. Therefore, no workplace is immune to fatigue risk. Fatigue can arise from many sources, a lot of which are unrelated to work. Put plainly, a safety-sensitive or high-hazard workplace without any fatigue management puts its employees at a greater safety risk.

Myth 2: Avoiding fatigue is only a matter of personal responsibility.

Reality: Because it can force people to be awake and active against their natural circadian cycles, shift work itself is known to cause or contribute to fatigue symptoms, meaning workers even with a high level of personal responsibility can experience fatigue too. This is especially true for extended and rotating shifts. Night shifts are known to experience a higher rate of safety incidents than day shifts simply because night shift workers are more prone to the effects of circadian disruption–in other words, they are awake and working at times when their bodies and minds naturally expect and want to be resting. For most shift workers, their shift schedules alone can contribute to their fatigue. Furthermore, fatigue caused by illness, lack of sleep at home, stress, and other sources cannot be realistically prevented, as these are common aspects of life. In short, fatigue happens, and employers can do things that help mitigate the risk it presents in the workplace, regardless of the source.

Myth 3: Overcoming or avoiding fatigue is a matter of willpower or personal strength. Experiencing fatigue is a sign of a weak person.

Reality: Experiencing fatigue is a normal part of life. Fortunately, the risk that it poses to safety and productivity can be managed and mitigated, but to assert that fatigue is a sign of weakness is naive and sets an unrealistic and unachievable expectation for employees. Expecting a drowsy employee to “snap out of it” is irresponsible and heightens safety risks for the employee as well as fellow employees and expensive equipment.

Myth 4: If we start a fatigue management program, productivity will drop because supervisors will need to be juggling fatigued workers all the time.

Reality: Implementing a fatigue management program, such as PRISM™, or an impairment testing system, like AlertMeter®, actually has the opposite effect on productivity. Because their fatigue levels are being monitored, employees can self-manage their fatigue, and this means they will experience fatigue symptoms less severe or less often, and these means more alert and more productive workers more often. Thus, “juggling fatigued workers all the time” does not happen. Plus, the PRISM™ system can predict future fatigue levels for individual employees so that symptoms can be managed even before they manifest.

The bottom line is that there are far more reasons to manage fatigue risk in your workplace than there are reasons to ignore it. This blog post only scratches the surface. If you’re ready to learn more about how fatigue management or impairment testing can transform your workplace for the better, click here to find out how AlertMeter and PRISM can help your 21st-century workplace run more safely and more productively. 

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