The Wide Awake Club - The Perils of Fatigue
Lack of sleep affects performance. It impacts processing speed, decision making and reduces alertness and concentration. This can lead to an increased number of errors and can decrease reaction times. Emotional state can also be affected – tiredness can make people less communicative and more irritable. This is particularly harmful in working environments where a high level of concentration is needed or there is the potential for injury or loss of life.
High risk industries
Fatigue risk management is an important consideration for safety practitioners, especially across high-risk industries such as manufacturing, energy and transport. In certain jobs where lives such as stake, such as medicine and law enforcement, as well as positions where there is a high level of risk, for example, those involving manning a vehicle, it’s vital that employers have a fatigue policy in place. Similarly, shift workers should also monitor their alertness and working patterns.
Putting this into context
For those who drive for a living, tiredness is particularly problematic. The Royal Society for the Protection of Accidents estimates that fatigue causes around 20% of road accidents and as many as one-quarter of serious accidents. It’s 50% more likely fatigue-related accidents will result in death or serious injury – this is because a driver who is asleep cannot swerve.
Establishing a fatigue risk management plan
In order to identify fatigue, it’s worth considering establishing a fatigue risk management plan (FRMP) or alertness management system to help identify tiredness and how it could affect staff performance.
Here are our top tips for implementing a fatigue risk management plan…
1) Be alert to alertness
Even something as simple as speaking more openly about alertness and sleep deprivation can have a huge impact. Some airlines, for example, have protocols in place where the captain asks each member of the cabin crew how alert they are and how much sleep they’ve had. In addition, a fatigue training programme could also help educate your staff and improve wellbeing and performance.
2) Keep an eye out
Colleagues who know each other well should be on the lookout for signs of fatigue – if a colleague is less communicative than usual this could be a sign that they haven’t had enough sleep. Keep an eye out for signs of fatigue such as fidgeting, rubbing eyes, yawning, blinking, difficulty keeping eyes open and nodding of the head.
3) Establish procedure
It’s important to establish a clear system relating to how a manager should respond if an employee identifies fatigue or reduced alertness. Setting up a formalised reporting process is vital as it can help identify problems before they arise. This should be bespoke to your particular organisation.
4) Be flexible
In order to allow for changes to working patterns as a result of employees identifying fatigue, it’s important that you have a flexible shift structure in place. If staff feel reluctant to speak up about tiredness then your system will be ineffective, so it’s vital to switch the focus of the conversation to alertness, and making it clear it affects safety.
As well as having significant short-term effects, in the long-term, sleep deprivation can cause medical issues such as diabetes, depression, hypertension, obesity and cancer.
For the safety and well-being of your employees, it’s vital that you implement a policy that recognises the effects of tiredness. Introduce a policy that places responsibility on employees to turn up to work feeling alert, but equally, does not hold blame when they identify fatigue in themselves and others.
If your business is looking to improve its fatigue policy, then employing a health and safety professional or contractor could help you formulate and implement an appropriate strategy. Here at Burton Recruiting, we specialise in recruiting health and safety staff across a range of industries. Get in touch to find out how we could help you recruit the right talent.