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Worker fatigue affects mood, motivation, attention, creativity, resilience, problem solving, and health. It also affects the safety of our coworkers.
Worker fatigue affects mood, motivation, attention, creativity, resilience, problem solving, and health. It also affects the safety of our coworkers.

Managing fatigue to prevent injuries

Tired of hearing about fatigue management? We are a society of people that are constantly tired and
stressed, and we struggle with making good decisions about our nutrition every day. Many of us are so
accustomed to living with fatigue that it’s easy to overlook how it affects our safety consciousness and
puts us and our co-workers at serious risk. Being fatigued affects each of us differently and on a number
of levels including our:

    • Mood & Motivation
    • Physical Performance
    • Attention & Awareness
    • Problem Solving
    • Creativity
    • Resilience
    • Learning & Memory
    • Health

Incident investigations commonly involve elaborate processes with the purpose of digging deep to
determine a root cause(s). Through this process, contributing factors, such as a lack of training, not
following procedures, or even poor supervision, can easily be identified. However, fatigue of the mind
and body is much more difficult to pinpoint through analysis, and since, in many industries it’s viewed as
the normal human operating condition, fatigue can be overlooked or dismissed as a serious factor
contributing to an injury or fatality.

Conceptually, an injury can be viewed as a series of connected events and is simply prevented by
breaking any one of the events in the causal chain. Fatigue is sometimes identified as a subordinate
factor but is rarely seen as THE factor due to a lack of a strong causal association. Question: “Were you
tired when you got hurt?” Answer: “Maybe a little more tired than I usually am…I’m tired all the time…”

Fatigue cannot be overlooked as a major factor in injury cause. The National Sleep Foundation has
determined that the loss of just two hours of sleep a night has been shown to have the same
impairment effect on the body as a 0.05% blood alcohol content. You don’t have to be really drunk, or
really fatigued, to be impaired enough to have a lapse of judgement. Careless operation of heavy
equipment or power tools, skipping a process step, or failing to install fall protection equipment
properly can easily result in an injury or fatality.

Solutions Found Here!

Fatigue management is the term that describes approaches used to combat the impact of factors that
can deplete the mind and body such as sleep deprivation, stress, and poor nutrition. This is of particular
concern for those working in remote locations where housing shortages are common, and long work
assignments are the norm. These conditions are common around remote mining projects and in oil
fields, such as the Bakken region of North Dakota. Having crews living out of pick-up trucks or RVs may
seem to work for the short term but is not a solution for keeping workers fit-for-duty every day over the
long haul.

Companies such as Target Logistics approach fatigue management from the ground up, by
providing a more civilized housing solution than the traditional “man camps” typically found in those
areas. Target Logistics’ housing communities consist of quality sleeping quarters, quality food choices, a
secured compound, a commissary, nursing staff, recreational facilities, and a socializing atmosphere.
The net effect is a healthy, properly functioning worker that is able to execute safety completely.

“There’s no doubt that healthy eating, regular exercise and quality sleep boosts productivity, job
performance and, of course, health and safety,” says Randy E. Pruett, spokesperson for Target Logistics,
the largest provider of workforce housing in the United States. How workers take care of themselves in
their off-hours is critical to their performance on-the-job.

I think we can all agree that it’s hard for us to function at peak safety performance when we’re are
overly tired, dealing with a serious family matter, or “running on empty” through an inadequate diet.
Forward-thinking companies are taking fatigue seriously and acknowledging that sleep deprivation,
stress, and other factors outside of the workplace can influence our performance and contribute to
workplace injuries and fatalities.

About the author:

Dan Hannan of MerjentDan Hannan is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and has been practicing safety for twenty-four years.  He is presently the Safety Director for Merjent, an environmental and social consulting firm serving the world’s leading energy and natural resource companies. Merjent  consultants have decades of specialized experience on pipeline projects, including planning and feasibility, environmental permitting, construction compliance, operational compliance, third-party analyses, stakeholder engagement, and technology solutions.  Dan can be reached at dhannan@merjent.com.

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