Employers can improve workplace safety by following a three-step process to identify and manage tasks that can be particularly affected by fatigue.
Unfortunately, many of us are not getting enough sleep. We may try to go to bed early or put up light-blocking curtains, but this doesn’t always help. Without enough sleep, people can end up fatigued at work.
“Fatigue has implications for performance in terms of memory, communication, reaction time, vigilance, and perceiving your work environment, which can have potentially detrimental effects,” says Heather Kahle, a human factors specialist at WorkSafeBC.
Fatigue is a form of impairment
WorkSafeBC’s information sheet Fatigue in the workplace compares the number of hours awake to blood alcohol content (BAC) in terms of causing impairment.
Research shows the following:
- 17 hours awake is equivalent to a BAC of 0.05 (B.C.’s legal limit for operating a motor vehicle)
- 21 hours awake is equivalent to a BAC of 0.08 (Canada’s legal limit for operating a motor vehicle)
- 24 to 25 hours awake is equivalent to a BAC of 0.10
Heather says that certain tasks are particularly affected by fatigue. “Employers need to conduct an assessment to identify and understand which tasks require a lot of memory, attention, safety, critical communication, or quick reaction time. These elements of a task are particularly affected by fatigue and may be more susceptible to error.” She points out that fatigue is inevitable and normal, and there are many things employers can do to manage the risk of fatigue.
Managing the risk of fatigue in the workplace
Employers are responsible for identifying, assessing, and controlling risks that may be escalated by the presence of fatigue in their workplace. These three steps are part of managing the risk of harm at work, as outlined on WorkSafeBC’s Managing risk webpage.
To start, look at each hazardous task and consider:
- Does it need to be done?
- Can it be redesigned or can aspects of it be improved to lessen the risk?
- Can it be carried out at a different time, avoiding times when workers’ drive for sleep is greatest?
Although each workplace is different, incidents tend to occur more often on night shifts, during extended shifts, and when breaks are inadequate.