Long work hours and irregular work shifts are common in our society. Many workers around the world spend over 40 hours a week at work and hundreds of millions of people work full time on evening, night, rotating or other irregular shifts. Work schedules like these may cause workplace fatigue.
Shift workers may be scheduled to work days, evenings, nights and/or on a rotating or on-call basis. They may work extended shifts (more than 8 hours long), rotating or irregular shifts or consecutive shifts resulting in far more hours than what is considered a typical 40-hour work week. Long work hours and the fatigue associated with them can increase the risk of injuries and accidents and can contribute to poor overall health. Studies show that long work hours can result in increased levels of stress, poor eating habits, lack of physical activity and illness. It is important to recognize the symptoms of worker fatigue and its potential impact on each worker’s safety and health and on the safety of co-workers.
While there is no one solution to fit everyone’s needs, here are some general strategies that workers and employers can use to manage workplace fatigue and work safely.
Workplace Fatigue Fighting Tips for Workers
1. Tips To Improve Sleep
- You’ll sleep better if your room is comfortable, dark, cool and quiet.
- If it takes you longer than 15 minutes to fall asleep, set aside some time before bedtime to do things to help you relax. Try meditating, relaxation breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Before you begin working a long stretch of shifts, try “banking your sleep” – sleeping several extra hours longer than you normally do.
- After you’ve worked a long stretch of shifts, remember it may take several days of extended sleep (for example, 10 hours in bed) before you begin to feel recovered. Give yourself time to recover.
- Avoid sunlight or bright lights 90 minutes before you go to sleep, when possible. Exposure to light just before bedtime can cause you to feel more awake.
- If you work a night shift and drive home during sunlight hours, try wearing sunglasses to reduce your exposure to sunlight during your drive home.
- Consider using blackout shades at home when sleeping.
- Take naps when you have the opportunity.
- A 90-minute nap before working a night shift can help prevent you from feeling tired at work.
2. Food and Fatigue
- Eat healthy foods and stay physically active because it can improve your sleep.
- Before you go to sleep, avoid foods and drinks that can make falling asleep more difficult:
- Avoid alcohol, heavy meals, and nicotine for at least 2–3 hours before bedtime.
- Don’t drink caffeine within 5 hours of bedtime.
3. Fatigue on the Job
- Know what to do if you feel too tired to work safely.
- Use a buddy system while you’re at work. Check in with each other to ensure everyone is coping with work hours and demands.
- Watch yourself and your coworkers for signs of fatigue — like yawning, difficulty keeping your eyes open, and difficulty concentrating. When you see something, say something to your coworkers so you can prevent workplace injuries and errors.
- Find out if your employer has a formal program to help you manage fatigue on the job. Read information about the program and ask questions so you fully understand your employer’s policies and procedures for helping employees manage fatigue.
- Report any fatigue-related events or close-calls to a manager to help prevent injuries and errors.
- Do not work if your fatigue threatens the safety of yourself or others. Report to a manager when you feel too tired to work safely.
Workplace Fatigue Fighting Tips for Employers
What steps should employers take to reduce workplace fatigue for workers? First of all, recognize that these are stressful and unusual circumstances and risk for fatigue may be increased. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is a short survey that can be posted in a common area for workers to quickly rate their fatigue.
- Create a culture of safety with clear coordination and communication between management and workers. This can include establishing a Fatigue Risk Management Plan or strategies for fatigue mitigation on the job. Share and ensure that employees understand the processes.
- Spot the signs and symptoms of fatigue (e.g., yawning, difficulty keeping eyes open, inability to concentrate) in yourself and your employees and take steps to mitigate fatigue-related injury or error.
- Create a procedure that does not punish workers for reporting when they, or their coworkers, are too fatigued to work safely. Build it into team comradery as an example of how management and staff can support each other.
2. Work Procedures and Processes
- Develop processes to relieve a worker from their duties if they are too fatigued to work safely.
- If available, and agreeable with workers, consider assigning workers who are just starting their shifts onto safety-critical tasks.
- If possible, rotate workers or groups of workers through tasks that are repetitive and/or strenuous. Tools or workstations that are unavoidably shared need to be properly cleaned and disinfected between usage.
- If possible, schedule physically and mentally demanding workloads and monotonous work in shorter shifts and/or during day shifts.
- Provide information for workers on the consequences of sleep deprivation and resources to assist workers manage fatigue.
- Allow staff enough time to organize their off-duty obligations and get sufficient rest and recovery.
- Schedule at least 11 hours off in-between shifts (each 24-hour period), and one full day of rest per seven days for adequate sleep and recovery.
- Avoid penalizing those who may have restricted availability to work extra shifts/longer hours (e.g., caring for dependents).
- If rotating shift work is needed, use forward rotations (day to evening to night) and provide staff with sufficient notice when scheduling, particularly if there is a shift change.
- Avoid scheduling staff for more than 12 hours, if possible.
- Formalize and encourage regularly scheduled breaks in clean and safe areas where social distancing can be maintained. Recognize the need for additional time for increased hand hygiene and putting on and taking off required personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Provide alternative transportation to and from work and mandatory paid rest time prior to driving commutes after work, when possible.
- Consider arranging for nearby offsite housing for those working extended shifts and at high risk for COVID-19, such as health care workers. Nearby housing will reduce travel times, allowing for more rest and recovery.
To learn more about the signs of worker fatigue, check out our blog post: The 10 Signs of Worker Fatigue.