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The dangers of fatigue in the workplace

Working while fatigued can be dangerous. Research suggests that the effects of fatigue on the brain are as harmful as drunk driving. Fatigue affects employees’ memory, balance, concentration, decision-making, and motor skills. It also causes about 13% of workplace accidents and injuries each year. These tips can help employers reduce job hazards by reducing workplace fatigue.

Fatigued health care worker

1Educate employees about the effects of fatigue.

Fatigue has been cited as a factor in some of the biggest workplace accidents in history, including the 2005 BP Texas City oil refinery explosion and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Train all employees, especially managers, to spot fatigue in workers.

2Help employees develop good sleep habits.

More than 43% of workers and 62% of night-shift workers don’t get enough sleep, according to a National Safety Council survey.  Train employees on how to improve sleep. Give information on the benefits of creating a regular sleep/wake schedule; avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bedtime; and keeping the bedroom dark, cool, and technology-free.

3Schedule shifts so employees can get enough sleep.

Employees who work late-night or overnight shifts are more likely to have fatigue. Avoid scheduling employees for irregular or rotating shifts. Also, fatigue increases exponentially during a 12-hour shift. Ban overtime on 12-hour shifts and give employees at least a 24-hour break between these shifts.

4Embrace the power nap.

Studies show that naps 30 minutes in length or less provide increased job performance and less fatigue in shift workers. Companies from Cisco, Google, Ben & Jerry’s, and more encourage power napping. Another 34% of U.S. companies allow naps during breaks at work. The research on power naps shows better focus, decreased sleepiness, improved workplace outcomes, and reduced chances of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure among employees.

5Use light to help shift workers adapt their sleep-wake cycle.

Managers at a growing number of companies - among them Procter & Gamble and Goldman Sachs - are investing in lighting systems to help employees improve their sleep. Exposure to bright light can help shift workers adjust their sleep-wake cycles and produce melatonin, a hormone that plays an important role in sleep. 

For more tips on creating good sleep habits and preventing accidents and injuries caused by fatigue, download any of DWC’s health and wellness publications or stream free online safety videos on the topic of fatigue at work. Contact or call 1-800-452-9595 to speak with a DWC safety training specialist today.


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Last updated: 12/9/2021