Worker Fatigue Causes and Cures for Health and Safety

Worker Fatigue is a serious threat to health and safety

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 15 million Americans work irregular schedules, including full-time evening shifts, night shifts, and rotating shifts (where workers alternate between working nights and days in a given week). The associated safety and health risks of irregular sleep schedules make specific jobs(such as disaster response) especially vulnerable to sleep-deprived safety and health issues. 

These workers’ are at a higher risk because an irregular sleeping pattern disrupts your circadian rhythm. A circadian rhythm is a 24-hour, internal cycle that controls when you feel alert or sleepy. Disrupted circadian rhythms lead to worker fatigue. Long work hours or insufficient rest during the workday exacerbate fatigue, increasing workplace safety risk and injury.


  • Some of the causes of worker’s fatigue are the following:
  • Too little, poor quality, or interrupted sleep over a period of time 
  • Demanding Schedules
  • Long work or irregular hours

Worker fatigue increases the risk for illnesses and injuries. Accident and injury rates1 are 18% greater during evening shifts and 30% greater during night shifts when compared to day shifts. Research indicates that working 12 hours per day is associated with a 37% increased risk of injury2. In a 2005 study reporting on a survey of 2737 medical residents, every extended shift scheduled in a month increased by 16.2 % monthly risk of a motor vehicle crash during their commute home from work.

Decreased alertness from worker fatigue has been a contributing factor in:

  • Increased sleep problems and risk for injury among full-time employees in relation to the number of hours worked per week.
  • Errors during patient care increased needle sticks and exposure to blood and other body fluids and increased occupational injuries among healthcare workers.
  • Direct or indirect links to increased costs3 from lost productivity, increased injury and illness costs, increased time off the job due to illness, and increased workers' compensation costs.
  • An estimated annual cost of $136.4 billion from fatigue-related, health-related lost productive work time to employers

Affect Workers Safety

  • Studies have shown that fatigue is linked to health problems such as:
  • Heart disease
  • Stomach and digestive problems
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Reproductive problems
  • Depression
  • Some cancers (breast and prostate)
  • Sleep disorders
  • Poor eating habits/obesity
  • Worsening of existing chronic diseases such as diabetes and epilepsy


Fighting Fatigue during the Day

  • Adjust lighting or temperature (or request that they be adjusted) if either is impairing your alertness at work. 
  • Eat nutritious meals at regular times. 
  • Exercise regularly. However, do not exercise too close to bedtime.

Managing Your Workload

  • Moderate your workload as much as possible. If shifts are long, try to choose lighter tasks. If the work is intense, try to work shorter shifts.
  • Schedule heavy or demanding work at times when you are more alert to decrease the risk of an accident.
  • For demanding work, take frequent rest breaks every couple of hours.
  • Get at least 10 consecutive hours per day of off-duty time so that you can get 7 – 8 hours of sleep, the recommended amount of sleep for adults.

Improving Sleep Quality

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. 
  • Find a schedule that works for you. Some experimentation may be required, especially if you work a night shift. 
  • Circadian rhythms are affected by light, so make sure your room is sufficiently dark. 
  • Assure there will be no noise or distractions or block out noise that will keep you awake. 
  • Regulate the temperature. 
  • Assess your bed’s comfort level and make improvements if needed.
  • Use your bed only for sleep.
  • Do not eat large meals before bedtime. Especially avoid greasy foods and alcohol.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evenings. 
  • Avoid using amphetamines or other stimulants, as well as sleeping pills, which can affect your performance the next day. 
  • Monitor any medications which may affect sleep or work abilities.

Fatigue is a hazardous situation that needs to be taken seriously.  With proper understanding, education and prevention should minimize the risk of set hazards.




Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

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