The 10 Signs of Worker Fatigue

Worker fatigue increases the risk for injury and deteriorating health (infections, illnesses and mental health disorders).

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has touched all aspects of society, including how we work and it is leaving many of us suffereing from or battling worker fatigue in the workplace. Emergency responders, health care workers, manufacturing workers, supply chain workers and others providing essential services to the community have been especially stretched thin, working longer hours than usual, working more shifts or even over-night and leaving less time to sleep and recharge.

Under regular circumstances, adults need 7–9 hours of sleep per night, along with opportunities for rest while awake to ensure optimal health and well-being. Long work hours and shift work, combined with stressful or physically demanding work or a change in work routines, can lead to poor sleep and extreme fatigue. Fatigue increases the risk for injury and deteriorating health (infections, illnesses and mental health disorders).

No Single Definition of Worker Fatigue

In occupational health and safety, there is not a single definition of worker fatigue.

Fatigue is often thought of as the state of feeling very tired, weary or sleepy resulting from various sources such as insufficient sleep, prolonged mental or physical work or extended periods of stress or anxiety. Boring or repetitive tasks can intensify feelings of worker fatigue. Fatigue either can be acute or chronic.

There are approximately 11 different signs or “symptoms” of fatigue, and they can include mental, physical or subjective states. If you notice any of these signs, you likely are suffering from fatigue. It could be acute – a “one-off” related to workplace or home stress or a pressing deadline or project – or chronic, which means that you likely are suffering from a sleep disorder, prolonged periods of work and extended periods of stress.

Mental state:
1. Reduced mental capacity
2. Inattentive

Physical state:
4. Physiological weakness or degradation
5. Physically exhausted
6. Weak

Subjective state:
7. Tired
8. Drowsy or sleepy
9. Weary
10. Irritable

While there is no one solution to fit everyone’s needs, there are some general strategies that workers and employers can use to manage workplace fatigue and work safely.

Part Two of this article explores what workers and employers can do to reduce fatigue – and fatigue-related incidents – in the workplace. Read The Top 7 Tips to Fight Workplace Fatigue here.

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