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Workers Compensation: Fatigue & Safety in the Workplace

Posted on: March 20, 2012 by Caitlin Morgan

We all know that healthier employees result in fewer claims and job-related injuries. What’s more, a well-rested, alert employee is critical to safe and productive operations. And while everyone experiences fatigue at some point after several long days and nights working on a project, excessive, chronic fatigue can be problematic in the workplace. This is specifically important in safety-sensitive operations, such as the transportation, healthcare, and energy sectors.

According to a 2012 white paper by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) on “Fatigue Risk Management in the Workplace”, fatigue and decreased alertness resulting from insufficient or poor quality sleep can have “several safety-related consequences, including slowed reaction time, reduced vigilance, reduced decision-making ability, poor judgment, distraction during complex tasks, and loss of awareness in critical situations”.

Those who perform shift work are especially victims of fatigue. According to a recent survey, 20% of wage and salary workers work a shift other than a regular daytime shift, with almost 15 million Americans working full-time on evening, night, or rotating shifts, or other employer-arranged irregular schedules. Furthermore, the National Sleep Foundation’s 2010 Sleep in America poll found that one-fourth of those surveyed indicated that their work schedule did not permit them to obtain adequate sleep and one-third reported that they did not obtain sufficient sleep to function at their best.

That’s a lot of folks tired on the job. Just look at the Transportation industry as an example. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at least 100,000 police-reported crashes annually are due to driver fatigue; these crashes cause approximately 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. And according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) fatigue has been found to be a causal or contributory factor since it posted it on its “most wanted list” in 1989.

Look at the healthcare industry as well: According to the ACOEM paper, nurses who work longer than 12.5-hour shifts have a greater risk of decreased vigilance on the job, of suffering an occupational injury, or of making a medical error. Errors or injuries are also found to be increased in physicians in training when they work extended hours. The risk of a motor vehicle crash on the way home or of making a serious medical error increases significantly because the hours on duty exceed 24 hours – compared with those working 16 hours – there are twice as many attentional failures and 36% more serious medical errors.

There are many steps that can be taken to help address this issue to stem the resulting injuries that occur, as outlined in the study. Some include: creating a workload-staffing balance, shift scheduling, employee fatigue training and sleep disorder and management, workplace environment design, and fatigue monitoring and alertness for duty.

As an MGU and wholesaler, Caitlin-Morgan provides several specialty insurance and risk management programs, including Workers Compensation for several industries. We can help you in creating solutions for your customers and addressing issues that today’s employers and employees face. Contact us today for more information, 877.226.1027.

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Posted in: Workers Compensation