Fatigue in the Workplace: Why a Good Night’s Sleep Makes for A Safer Work Environment

Fatigue in the Workplace: Why a Good Night’s Sleep Makes for A Safer Work Environment

  • Date: Monday 16th April 2018
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Legend has it that Margaret Thatcher used to run the country on just four hours sleep a night. In the 1980s sleep, along with lunch, apparently was for wimps. But now we live in more enlightened times and organisations are waking up to the impact that sleep deprivation can have on the workplace.

Fatigue statistics and productivity

According to a recent report, more than half of us struggle to sleep at night, with one in 10 experiencing insomnia and almost two thirds are unhappy with amount of sleep they get. Sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing and a lack of sleep can lead to loss of temper and irritability both at home and at work. It is estimated that sleep-deprived workers cost the UK economy around £40 billion a year.

The same research found that around a third of workers claim to be less productive because of a lack of sleep, with 19% often late into work or having time off as a result. The issue of fatigue is hugely common and widespread. In the States it is considered to have overtaken obesity as America’s greatest public health issue.

People who get less than six hours sleep a night have a 50% increased chance of developing or dying from heart disease, and a 12.5% increased chance of dying before the age of 65 from any cause.

‘Culture of busyness’

We appear to live in a culture of busyness, whereby we feel we have to be seen as busy. We fill our days to the maximum and very rarely give ourselves a chance to unwind, or to stop for 20 minutes and address some of the issues in our lives. Every single workforce will be suffering as a result of the trends observed around sleep duration and sleep quality. There is no organisation that is not affected by increasing sleep deprivation across society.

The problem is likely to be more acute in industries with shift workers. Research shows that sleep quality is poorer in shift workers, particularly for those on night shifts, when they are trying to sleep during the day.

Why sleep deprivation can be difficult to spot

People often fool themselves over the effects of sleep deprivation. When fatigue builds up over time, it happens almost unnoticed and people forget what it feels to be fully rested.

In one company study, a driver was identified with low levels of alertness and high levels of fatigue, despite his assertion that he only needed four hours sleep a night. However, a subsequent assessment of their sleep pattern showed that they got four-and-a-half hours sleep Monday through to Thursday, but when it got to Friday and Saturday, they were sleeping in excess of 10 hours.

Accident eight times more likely

The driver was fatiguing himself through the week and then relying on huge recovery sleeps over the weekend. Their likelihood of being involved in an accident was eight times greater than for someone who had been sleeping properly.

There are only a small number of people who genuinely need only four hours sleep a night, some of whom have a rare gene. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than to have that gene.

Four steps employers can take to manage fatigue in workplace

Awareness: Assess the workforce to understand the extent, impact and causes of tiredness and fatigue, and which groups have a particular issue. Identify whether a particular shift pattern is causing fatigue.

Review: Policies and procedures and ensure they address the actual issues in the business. Examine conflicts and cultural issues in the organisation. For example, it may be company policy to stay overnight if driving long distances, or having an early morning or late evening meeting, but this may not be followed if staff prefer to return home the same day and are unaware or don’t fully understand the risk this entails.

Involvement:  Discuss findings and workable solutions with management and workers.

Encourage: people to change their behaviours and get more sleep for both their own personal wellbeing and for safety at work. Consider employee assistance programmes (EAPs), which may include cognitive behavioural therapists who may be able to help.

Sleep – the most important pillar of health

Sleep, diet and exercise used to be considered the three pillars of good health. However, it may be that in terms of our wellbeing, the single most effective thing that we can do to reset our brains and bodies is sleep.

Source: SHP Online

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