Too many companies are losing money and risking worker safety by failing to realize the importance and urgency of fatigue management, according to Bill Sirois, senior vice-president and CEO of Circadian 24/7 Workforce Solutions.
According to Sirois, 90 percent of shiftworkers receive no training on how to manage their schedules and shiftwork lifestyles.
“We see many shiftworkers who are well trained and skilled at their jobs, but who have never been taught how to deal with fatigue, better manage their sleep or adapt to the inherent physical and social challenges of shiftwork,” he says.
“As a consequence, they develop bad habits and/or become victims of common shiftwork pitfalls that compromise their ability to perform to their fullest capabilities.”
Sirois says companies often go to great lengths to keep equipment “well oiled and well maintained” yet fail to show the same level of care toward the workers they employ.
“Ironically, our people are being asked to operate outside their design specs every day to support our continuous production requirements. The net result, as you might surmise, has been premature failure in terms of (employee) sickness and injury, costly downtime in terms of absenteeism and presenteeism (coming to work while ill), high maintenance in terms of health and wellness costs and lost productivity due to human error.”
Sirois says companies wanting to reduce fatigue and optimize the productivity and safety of their workforce need to develop “a comprehensive, science-based, fatigue risk management plan. Such a plan should:
Educate managers, supervisors at all levels and union leaders about the risks of workplace fatigue. Train workers to empower them to take more control over reducing their personal levels of fatigue and better cope with shiftwork (especially new hires).
Educate and train supervisors on how to identify tired shiftworkers and intervene when they spot them. Re-evaluate work schedules and overtime policies and practices to ensure they are not causing excessive fatigue. Studies have shown that 80 hours of work only nets 50-55 hours of productive output. Reinforce the training and personal commitment to behavioral lifestyle change by providing educational support publications and practical shiftwork information to operators on a regular basis. Optimize staffing and crewing levels to maintain manageable overtime levels.
Evaluate indoor and outdoor working environments to see if modifications could be made to reduce fatigue, such as by making control rooms more mentally stimulating. Evaluate work tasks and activities to make them less boring and monotonous. Re-evaluate operating policies and procedures that may no longer be valid and may be counterproductive.
Regularly screen and treat shiftworkers for sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome and provide education on managing sleep. Incorporate fatigue analytics/human error analysis into reporting systems to monitor and track results by collecting and reporting fatigue-related data. Incorporate fitness for duty impairment screening programs.
Stay abreast of new research and development regarding shiftworkers and sleep. Establish a continuous improvement process that is a permanent core operating value for your company.