According to OSHA, worker deaths in America are down-on average, from about 38 worker deaths a day in 1970 to 14 a day in 2016. Similarly, worker injuries and illnesses are down-from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to 2.9 per 100 in 2016. These statistics represent major progress in improving workplace safety. A new report from the National Safety Council suggests that a key to making workplaces even safer is preventing employee fatigue.
The NSC’s new report, Fatigue in the Workplace: Risky Employer Practices, is the second in a three-part series on fatigue in the workplace based on data and survey from business owners. According to the report, 90 percent of America’s employers have been negatively impacted by tired employees, with half saying they’ve had an employee fall asleep on the job.
The majority (57 percent) of employers surveyed by the NSC said they have experienced absenteeism as result of fatigued employees. And nearly a third (32 percent) report injuries and near-misses due to tired workers.
“This survey shows that employers are waking up to a hidden workplace hazard – too many employees are running on empty,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Employees are an organization’s greatest asset, and addressing fatigue in workplaces will help eliminate preventable deaths and injuries.”
Employees clearly have a large role in deciding how much rest they get at night. However, the NSC report shows that business owners may be exacerbating the problem with certain practices. The new data summarized in the report identifies the workplace practices and policies that are contributing to worker fatigue such as night shift and overtime scheduling, a lack of time off between shifts and inadequate rest areas within the workplace for employees to take breaks.
The NSC report shows that business owners are aware of fatigued employees, but they may not be doing enough to help resolve the issue. For example, nine out of 10 (90 percent) employers surveyed said they will meet with a fatigued employee to understand the root causes of the fatigue, but just over half (55 percent) said they will adjust an employee’s schedule or tasks accordingly.
And while many employers will talk to employees they notice are fatigue, the NSC report suggests that about three-fourths (74 percent) of employers underestimate the prevalence of fatigue in the workforce.
Another issue to keep in mind is that some employers and employees are unwilling to talk about the issue. Many employees may not be eager to admit that they aren’t working at their best due to exhaustion. The desire to avoid these unpleasant conversation may be why 73 percent of employers do not communicate to employees about fatigue. Similarly, 61 percent of employers do not believe their employees would feel comfortable telling them if they were too tired to perform their job safely.
The survey also identified a few things that employers do that make fatigue worse. For example, 51 percent of employers allow a night shift immediately before or after a day shift, increasing the employee’s fatigue and risk of being injured. Similarly, 60 percent of employers lack a designated area for employees to rest. Addressing these kind of issus can help reduce worplace injuries.
Business owners and HR administrators can benefit from reading the entire National Safety Council report. There are a lot of ways that businesses can modify their practices to reduce employee fatigue. An employer with 1,000 employees can expect to lose more than $1 million each year in missed workdays, lower productivity and increased healthcare due to employee fatigue. So anything that reduces employee fatigue can have a positive impact on profitability.
Employers can calculate the costs of fatigue with the NSC Fatigue Cost Calculator, available at nsc.org/tiredatwork.
For more information from recent studies that can help business owners and HR administrators, read this article on surveys about recent consumer and business trends.