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MIIA is a Membership Service of the Massachusetts

Fatigue Awareness -- How to Keep Your Employees Alert, Energized and Productive When Working Long Hours

Published in News on by Lin Chabra, MIIA Member Services Manager

No matter what line of work an employee is engaged in, if he or she is fatigued on the job their work will suffer. Their safety could also be put at risk along with the safety of the public around them, especially if the individual is working long hours.

People often cite the limited amount of sleep they get in a prideful way, as if being able to function on limited sleep should be admired. However, the National Sleep Foundation says that while a complete night’s sleepvaries for everyone, on average, adults should optimally receive between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.

The human body is designed to feel tired at night and to feel alert during the day, but work schedules often dictate or override that “design” and require employees to override those natural sleep patterns. As a result, an over-worked, over-tired work condition has become the norm for so many.

Fatigue is especially dangerous for motor vehicle operators including those in your public works and public safety departments. According to a study by Clear Roads, snowplow drivers face multiple challenges including often working between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. when human energy levels are typically lowest. The number of hours they work is often not limited by state or federal guidelines, so in addition to at times working round-the-clock shifts due to winter snow emergencies, drivers are subject to the hypnotic effect of blowing snow and the vibration and noise of winter maintenance equipment.

According to the National Safety Council, more than 43% of workers are sleep-deprived, and those most at risk are those who work the night shift, long shifts or irregular shifts. They offer the following statistics:

  • Safety performance decreases as employees become tired
  • 62% of night shift workers complain about sleep loss
  • Fatigued worker productivity costs employers $1,200 to $3,100 per employee annually
  • Employees on rotating shifts are particularly vulnerable because they cannot adapt their "body clocks" to an alternative sleep pattern

And, while your employees might not be flying planes, the National Business Aviation Association’s studies have shown that with just two hours of lost sleep, performance is affected in the same manner as having .05% blood alcohol concentration (BAC). And with four hours of lost sleep, performance can be impaired equivalent to a .10% BAC—or being legally impaired as defined in the US.

So how can you help your employees combat these sleep challenges? Here are a few approaches:

  • Encourage them to take a 20-minute nap – research has shown that just 20 minutes can have an incredible impact on sleep recovery. And if a nap isn’t possible, encourage them to relax during the day (close eyes and "just be quiet," meditate, listen to music, breath, stretch). Perhaps space can be made available in an employee lounge or spare office.
  • Provide healthy snacks that include protein to sustain the appetite, like fresh fruit with nuts or fresh fruit with cheese
  • Remind them to take breaks and get up from their desk or from behind the wheel and move regularly with stretching or walking
  • Provide plenty of plain water they can drink throughout the day and reduce or remove sugary foods, snacks, and sodas from the workplace
  • Remind them to get a good night's sleep in a quiet and dark room without TV or mobile devices, do breathing or meditation type exercises a bit before bedtime, stretch, and avoid caffeine after 3:00 pm and late heavy meals

It is particularly important to take care of employees working long hours in extreme temperatures. Encourage them to keep extra dry clothes in both their truck and locker, and provide bunkrooms at the public works facility if possible. Encourage breaks and provide warm meals, hot coffee or tea, and water during long-duration storms. A fatigued driver can be just as bad as a drunk driver – therefore rest is critical.

Investments made in reducing employee fatigue will improve overall productivity, reduce the risk of accidents and loss, and perhaps most importantly, increase the safety of your workers and the general public. 

Sidebar of Notable Statistics

  • *Only 56% of employees feel physically energized at work.
  • According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of more than 440,000 adults nationwide, 35% of U.S. adults usually sleep for less than 7 hours daily, including 12% who report usually sleeping for 5 hours or less (Liu et al., 2016).
  • AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research has estimated that 16-21% of all fatal automobile crashes involve a drowsy driver
  • Taking a nap of any kind boosts your memory, creativity, mood, alertness, and cognitive performance, and preventive naps have been found to be more effective at staving off the negative effects of sleep deprivation than multiple doses of caffeine.


National Safety Council

National Sleep Foundation

National Business Aviation Association, Duty/Rest Guidelines 2014 for Business Aviation

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

*The Energy Audit for Working America, May 2016, The Energy Project & Zogby Analytics (n=1,100)

About National Safety Council

Founded in 1913 and chartered by Congress, the National Safety Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to eliminate preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy.



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