Sunday, February 3, 2019

I'm Tired, You Tired?

Last fall WorkersCompensation.com reported on the release of a National Safety Council report on fatigue in the workplace. The bottom line is that we are tired. Not a few of us, but almost 70% of us are "tired at work." The foundation of the report's conclusions is "two national surveys, one of employers and a second probability-based survey of employees." 

The results reminded me of comedian Christopher Titus who similarly noted 
"the Los Angeles Times reported that 63% of American families are now considered dysfunctional. My God! That means we're the majority."
Indeed, it appears us fatigued workers are the majority in the American workplace. But, it is a "normal" that should concern us? Is the prevalence of fatigue in the workplace of concern? In the perspective of workers' compensation, there are two primary concerns, the prevention of, and challenges of recovery from, workplace injury.

The "prevention of" issue is perhaps the more obvious. Recently, stress in the workplace has been raised as a concern. Florida is similarly concerned with and will be examining distracted driving in 2019. The news regarding fatigue might bear similar examination and evaluation. In any regard, the "prevention of" issue is broadly focused on the potential for a worker to be involved in an accident that causes injury, whether to the worker or to someone else. 

Surprisingly, there are varying perspectives on the impact of fatigue. The story reports that 
"Ninety percent of employers feel the impact of fatigue on their organizations, including observing safety incidents involving tired employees and declines in productivity. However, just seventy-two percent of workers view being tired as a safety issue."
It is curious that perspectives are so different in this regard. The report offers no explanation or hypothesis for why employers and employees harbor such diverse perspectives on the risks of fatigue. 

The report authors note that there are a variety of jobs and responsibilities, characterizing some as "safety-critical positions." While it seems that all worker's safety would be critical, this term is commonplace in various industries. Placing these in context, the article notes 
"For example, mistakes on construction sites, around gas line digging areas or behind the wheel of big-rig trucks easily can lead to injuries or even death." 
Those conclusions seem axiomatic. But it seems equally likely that fatigue could lead to injury in a vast assortment of instances. A mistake might similarly lead to injury driving an automobile or forklift, cleaning or operating an industrial machine, and in a variety of seemingly more mundane vocations or activities. While the potential for risk to others might be more significant in "safety-critical" positions, the risk for injury to oneself are perhaps significant regardless of that distinction.

The National Safety Counsel has deployed a "cost calculator" for fatigue. To utilize it, you are asked to pick a state, select an industry (broad category), identify how many employees, and then choose whether the business includes "shift workers." For the sake of an example, I entered "Florida," "Education, Legal, Community Service, Arts, and Media Occupations," 180 employees, and "no" shift workers. That is the best characterization that I could approximate for the Florida OJCC.

The calculator concluded that fatigue costs this "business" $271,745 each year. This is estimated to include $40,029 in absenteeism, $148,519 in decreased productivity, and $83,197 in healthcare costs. The risks that it identified include "obstructive sleep apnea" (15 employees), "insomnia" (17 employees), "restless leg syndrome" (12 employees), and "shift work disorder" (0 employees). The report says Florida has a "moderate prevalence" of sleep deficiency, and the industry mix ("Education, Legal," etc.).

For the sake of curiosity, I repeated the calculation changing only the location. If in Georgia, it increases from $271,745 to $280,606, with all of the difference attributed to "decreased productivity." The same parameters in New York were very close to Georgia's ($280,028), with the difference again being in the "productivity." The California result was slightly lower than Florida ($267,762), again attributed only to the "productivity."

The NWC report concludes that "13% of workplace injuries can be attributed to fatigue." It then identifies nine risk factors for fatigue: shift work, high-risk hours, demanding jobs, long shifts, long weeks, sleep loss, no rest breaks, quick shift returns, and long commutes. Notably, some of those may be outside the control of the employer. And, if an employee is working more than one job, the coordination of multiple schedules might likewise exacerbate some of these factors. And, it notes that about 79% of us do not sufficiently understand fatigue.

So, it is likely that we are tired, or at least that we work with people that are. It is suggested that this may put us and our coworkers at risk of injury. And that risk is perhaps due to causes that are not within our direct control, or at least not readily within our control. Our legislators and regulators may search for ways to make us safer, to enforce safe behavior. 

However, perhaps the one thing within our control, and our best personal defense, is the ability to be introspective and aware. At a minimum, we can each be cognizant that fatigue is problematic. We can pay attention to our breaks, commuting, sleep, and work weeks. And, we can be aware of our coworkers in those noticeable regards. Fatigue is dangerous and worthy of our collective attention.




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