The Dangers Of Fatigue And Tiredness At Work

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Posted on 3rd May, 2017 | By Ben Earnshaw

There are a number of threats to health in the workplace, and no one knows that better than us at Browns Safety. However, amongst all of them, fatigue is one of the most frequently underestimated. Not only can it pose tangible risks to the short and long term health of employees, but can also directly and indirectly lead to serious and sometimes even fatal workplace accidents.

What Is Worker Fatigue?

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We’ll start with some of the obvious things. Fatigue at work is chiefly caused by lack of proper sleep or rest. The reasons of this can vary widely, and can include (but are not limited to):

  • Lack of sleep discipline
  • Childcare arrangements, including becoming a new parent
  • Stress
  • Chronic illness or long-term injury
  • Irregular sleeping patterns due to demanding shift work

The facts are that more than 3.5 million people are employed as shift workers in the UK, and a major proportion of us don’t get sufficient rest. Research conducted in 2016 shows that we’re one of the most sleep deprived countries on the planet, with over a third of Britain’s total population not getting enough rest.

This is particularly apparent for employees performing shift work, as workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.

Immediate Effects Of Fatigue at Work

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Lack of sleep or fatigue for any other reasons can have a number of effects on general health, many of which deteriorate further over time. They include:

  • Slower reactions and reduced co-ordination
  • A reduced ability to process information
  • Memory lapses, absent-mindedness and confusion
  • Decreased awareness of environment and surroundings
  • Underestimations of risk or dangers

The Longer-Term Effects Of Fatigue On Employee Health

long term health effects of fatigue

One of the often-underestimated elements of the lack of proper sleep is referred to as the ‘sleep debt’, or ‘sleep deficit’. This is what happens when the hours of lost sleep build up over time, and the cumulative effect begins to result in some longer-term tolls on productivity and general health, including on mental, emotional and physical energy. What’s more, someone with a high sleep deficit may not notice – or even actively deny – the effects on their performance, which obviously opens them up to a cycle of poor sleeping patterns, not to mention the possible physical risks they pose to themselves and others while at work.

Amongst the other effects of a high sleep deficit are a weakened immune system, which makes the affected person more vulnerable to illnesses and viruses. It can even result in hallucinations, which pose a particular danger especially in a shop floor or factory environment. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not enough to simply make up for lost hours of weekday sleep by sleeping late at the weekend. The human body needs regular, restful sleep in order to function properly, and it’s up to employers and managers to ensure that their employees are getting the rest they need to guarantee their safety and others around them at work.

We’ll elaborate more on tiredness and fatigue in next week’s blog, as well as what you can do to minimise the worst effects. In the meantime, you can call 01282 615 517 to book a place on any one of our health and safety courses, carried out by qualified training professionals. At Browns, your safety is our priority.

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