A majority of employees (69 percent) — many of whom work in in safety-critical industries — are tired at work, increasing the risk of injuries and incidents on the job, according to a new National Safety Council report. The report, Fatigue in Safety-Critical Industries: Impact, Risks and Recommendations, summarizes the results of two national surveys, one of employers and a second probability-based survey of employees. The report highlights findings from the construction, manufacturing, transportation, and utilities sectors — all high-risk industries that tend to use shift work, which commonly leads to fatigue.
The surveys also exposed a gap between how employees and employers view the risks and consequences of being tired at work. 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 72 percent of workers view being tired as a safety issue.
“We’ve been looking at the impact of fatigue in the workplace for a long time, but it is troubling to see just how affected our safety-sensitive industries are,” said Emily Whitcomb, senior program manager of Fatigue Initiatives at the National Safety Council. “When you’re tired, you can be deadly and these industries are already at higher risk because of their safety sensitive jobs. We urge employers to address fatigue risk in their workplace so all employees can be healthy and safe.”
Fatigue is a hidden but common hazard in all workplaces, regardless of industry. In safety-critical positions, however, the consequences of being tired can be catastrophic. 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.
Other significant findings from the Fatigue in Safety-Critical Industries report include:
- 97 percent of employers in the transportation industry feel the impact of fatigue – the highest among all safety-critical industries NSC reported on
- Nearly all – 95 percent – of employers in utilities said it is unsafe to drive while tired, but just 66 percent of employees in that industry agreed
- 100 percent of construction workers report having at least one risk factor for fatigue
- 46 percent of construction workers say they work during high-risk hours, such as at night or early morning
- Transportation industry employees who reported at least one risk factor for fatigue cited long shifts (42 percent) and sleep loss (48 percent)
Lack of sleep costs $410 billion annually in societal expenses¹, and fatigue has a different price tag for each employer. The National Safety Council developed the Fatigue Cost Calculator to help employers determine how much a drowsy workforce is impacting their bottom lines and what can be done to solve the problem.
Fatigue in Safety-Critical Industries is the third in a three-part series exploring The prevalence of risk factors and safety-critical incidents in workplaces. More information about the issue and copies of each report are available online.
¹ Hafner, M., Stepanek, M., & Taylor, J. (2016). Why Sleep Matters – The economic costs of insufficient sleep: a cross-country comparative analysis. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation.