Fatigue is common place in today’s work place full of deadlines, hassles, frustrations and demands. The right kind of stress energizes and motivates employees. However, when one is constantly running in emergency mode, the mind and body is made to pay the price. Beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to health, mood, productivity and safety. The wrong kind leads to absenteeism, disability, staff turnover and low productivity.
Indeed, it is a critical occupational safety concern for shift workers, especially workers in the transportation industry. The tragedies of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the Exxon Valdez all occurred during the night shift when workers were probably exhausted. Off the job, being overtired creates a risk for anyone who undertakes an activity that requires concentration and quick response – from driving, to home repair, to skiing.
Employees under stress can show a wide range of symptoms; for example: irritability, poor concentration and decision-making, fatigue, heart disease, digestive problems, high blood pressure or back pain. They may develop addictions. Stress can compromise the immune system, making a person more prone to infections and communicable illnesses, and can trigger depression.
Factors in the work environment
Pressure is unavoidable in workplaces. Stress can be negative when the demands and pressures of the job do not match an employee’s abilities and also, when the employee has little control or support from others. The environment and nature of the work can further magnify the effects of stress and fatigue. Environments with dim lighting, limited visual acuity (e.g. due to weather), high temperatures, high noise and high comfort tend to enhance fatigue. Also, a worker’s susceptibility to fatigue is increased by tasks where attention must be sustained for long periods, and those which are long, repetitive, paced, difficult, boring and monotonous.
How to fight fatigue
FATIGUE contributes greatly to accidents as a result of poor judgement. Managing stress in your life will keep you and those around you safe. The approach is to avoid, alter, adapt or accept the stressors thus changing the stressful situation when you can and changing your reaction to the situation when you can’t. Taking care of yourself and making time for rest and relaxation are great ways to manage stress and fatigue.
Workers can reduce fatigue through proper nutrition, stress control and exercise. A healthy diet provides longer-lasting energy – concentrate on complex carbohydrates (starch) rather than simple carbohydrates (sugar); and avoid fatty foods and junk food. Don’t let negative circumstances get the better of you. And regular exercise is important – cardiovascular, muscle strengthening and flexibility.
Employers can avoid placing workers in jeopardy by analyzing working conditions, addressing operational safety disincentives and conducting sleep-safety training. Shorter shifts and work rotation schedules that go in the direction of the sun (morning, afternoon, night) have been found to be helpful.
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