Updated: Oct 28th, 2020
Occupational fatigue is a frightening yet mostly overlooked health condition that affects a majority of the labor force in North America. Because of the lack of awareness, people tend to misunderstand it as a normal part of working and underestimate it. But, there’s more to workplace fatigue than just being tired.
To give you a better understanding of what occupational fatigue is and its effects, here are some statistics we compiled that we feel every modern worker today needs be aware of.
See Also: 24 Surprising Remote Work Burnout Statistics
1. More than 69% of workers feel fatigued at work
According to a 2018 survey report by the National Safety Council (NSC), two-thirds of the US labor force experiences workplace fatigue. This means that almost 107 million out of the 160 million US workers are affected by occupational fatigue.
Fatigue, which can be either acute or chronic, is defined by the NSC as “feelings of tiredness, sleepiness, reduced energy, and increased effort needed to perform tasks at a desired level.”
Not only can it reduce productivity, it affects safety as well. Unfortunately, many of these tired workers come from safety-critical industries like transportation, construction, manufacturing, and utilities.
2. Losing even two hours of sleep is similar to the effect of having three beers
According to numerous studies, being awake for long periods of time is akin to being inebriated. A loss of two hours of sleep is similar to having 3 beers, while a loss of 4 hours is equivalent to having a six pack in the amount of impairment.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety expands on those numbers with the following:
- Staying awake for 17 hours is equivalent to having a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05
- Staying awake for 21 hours is equivalent to having a BAC of 0.08
- Staying awake for 24 hours is equivalent to having a BAC of 0.10
In the US, the legal alcohol limit for driving varies from state to state. But, the standard is .008 for residential drivers and .004 for commercial drivers. This means that fatigued people who are driving home from work or as part of their work are putting themselves and the people around them at severe risk.
3. Fatigued people are 3 times more likely to be in a car crash
Just like when a person is intoxicated, the effects of being fatigued include reduced reaction times, ability to pay attention, and awareness of hazards. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work fatalities.
Alarmingly, in 2005, the American Sleep Foundation statistics reported that:
- 60% of adult drivers, or 168 million people, reported driving while feeling drowsy.
- 37%, or 103 million people, have fallen asleep while driving.
- 13% of adult drivers confessed to driving while drowsy at least once a month.
- 4%, or 11 million people, had or almost had an accident due to fatigued driving.
4. 59% of night shift workers sleep less than 7 hours a day
Night shift workers are at a higher risk of developing occupational fatigue because they tend to sleep less than day workers. Our body has a circadian rhythm which tells us when to sleep and when to be awake. Night shift workers have a hard time getting more quality sleep because they are trying to override their natural sleeping pattern.
Employees working irregular shifts are even more vulnerable since their body clocks can’t adapt to the changing sleep schedule.
5. The risk of injury on night shifts is 30% higher than day shifts
Fatigue-related safety risks peak during night shifts, particularly between 2 am and 6 am. The risk of injury on the night shift further increases as fatigued workers rack up their sleep debt, going up to 36% higher on the fourth consecutive night shift.
Sleep debt is the cumulative effect of regular lack of sleep. For example, after losing two hours of sleep every day for ten days, your performance on the eleventh day will be as if you didn’t have any sleep at all.
6. 97% of fatigued workers have reduced cognitive performance
When people are affected by occupational fatigue, their cognitive abilities go down. This leads to poorer performance in terms of attention, vigilance, and memory.
Fatigued workers also tend to make more errors and become less productive. In industries where clear thinking is a necessity for safety, workplace fatigue can lead to accidents and even fatalities.
Cognitively demanding tasks include:
- Monotonous tasks- These are unstimulating and monotonous tasks like driving on the highway.
- High alert tasks – These are tasks like assembly line work wherein vigilance is a must.
- Repetitive tasks – Tasks that only use a limited number of muscles groups like data entry are repetitive tasks.
7. Workers with sleep problems are 1.62 times more likely to get injured than workers with no sleep issues
According to statistics released by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 40 million Americans suffer from chronic long-term sleep disorders An additional 20 million people experience occasional sleep problems.
Unfortunately, 90% of the people who have sleep problems go untreated. The two most common sleep disorders are obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia.
Since sleep disorders can lead to lack of sleep or poor quality sleep, it can also contribute to occupational fatigue and, ultimately, a higher risk of injuries. To resolve this, employers should screen their employees for sleep disorders and establish programs for their treatment.
13% of all workplace injuries are caused by fatigue.
Occupational fatigue usually play out in the following order:
- First, the fatigued worker will experience decreased cognitive performance
- Microsleeps or nodding off starts to occur as the body uncontrollably tries to get some sleep
- Risk of injuries at the workplace starts to increase as a consequence of the above two.
8. Up to 93% of all employers feel that fatigue is a safety issue, though only 72% of employees agree
Because of the effects of occupational fatigue on the body, it is truly a safety issue. At 93%, most employers agree with this statement. However, only 72% of employees recognize fatigue as a safety issue.
This means that many employees tend to overestimate their condition, making them poor judges of their own health. As such, it is the employer’s responsibility to establish fatigue risk management systems and encourage workers to join sleep health programs. It is also important to actively monitor the number of consecutive hours and days worked so that enough recuperative rest can be provided.
9. Only 20% of employees understand what occupational fatigue is
According to the NHS, 80% of employees are not aware of the causes and risks of occupational fatigue.
- Only 31% of workers know of the workplace factors that can lead to fatigue.
- Only 41% of workers believe that there should be a rest break when driving for more than 1.5 to 2 hours.
- 73% of workers failed to identify all the signs of drowsy driving.
- 89% of people failed to identify the high-risks of shift work.
Because of this lack of awareness on the employees’ part, it is the employers’ duty to educate their workers about occupational fatigue.
10. Fatigued workers lose 5.6 hours of productive time per week
Aside from safety, another side effect of occupational fatigue is poor productivity. Because of reduced cognitive performance, fatigued workers find it hard to concentrate and need more time to complete their tasks.
Healthy workers only have a productivity loss of 26%. On the other hand, fatigued workers have a 66% rate of lost productivity due to cognitive decline and inability to focus.
To counter this, companies should establish programs that help their employees maintain a good work-life balance. Steps should also be taken to improve the assessment and treatment of people with fatigue.
11. Fatigue costs employers about $136 billion a year in health-related lost productivity
There are two ways that occupational fatigue leads to health-related productivity loss.
- Absenteeism – Workers who are in poor health tend to take more time off from work to consult their doctors and get some time to recuperate. But, once they return to work, they are, once again, exposed to the factors that can lead to occupational fatigue, making it a continuous cycle.
- Presenteeism – These are fatigued workers who are present at work, but are not able to perform well because of health reasons.
Interestingly, out of the $136 billion spent on lost productivity, 84% is due to presenteeism rather than absenteeism, according the statistics.
12. The cost of fatigue is approximately $80 million per year for an average-sized company with 52,000 employees
The NSC collaborated with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital to create the Fatigue Cost Calculator. Using this tool, it found that an American company with 1,000 workers lose $1.4 million dollars a year due to occupational fatigue. This is the combined cost of absenteeism, presenteeism, health care costs, occupational costs, and accidents.
On top of the financial loss, the Fatigue Cost Calculator can also identify how much savings a company can get from implementing a sleep-health education program that targets untreated sleep disorders. For example, an average-sized company can save up to $40 million in a year if 50% of their labor force participates in a sleep-health program.
13. Up to 2.5 million Americans are estimated to have chronic fatigue syndrome
Based on the 2015 report of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), up to 2.5 million people in the US are afflicted with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), with 90% of these cases left undiagnosed.
Compared to acute fatigue which can be resolved with enough rest and relaxation, CFS is a disabling and long-term illness that doesn’t get better with rest. It is an illness that is often misunderstood and undiagnosed because of the lack of awareness in both the patient and doctor’s part.
14. Chronic fatigue syndrome is most common in the 40 to 60 age group, which is over 33% of the working population
CFS is more common in women than men, and, among races, most common in white people. Though it can affect people of all ages, including children, it is most often diagnosed in adults aged 40 to 60. This age group comprises more than one-third of the US labor force.
Currently, there are no specific laboratory tests that can be used in directly diagnosing CFS. Also, there is no known cure for this illness, though there are some ways to manage its symptoms.
15. The top 2 causes of occupational fatigue are sleep deprivation and work environmental factors
A study published in October 2016 said that the major drivers of occupational fatigue are sleep deprivation and factors in the work environment like noise, temperature, and vibration. Other factors that can contribute to work fatigue include working time, changing shifts, and the type of tasks done.
These issues can be easily remedied with a change of schedule and an improvement in the work environment. But, workplace fatigue mostly goes unaddressed because most employers and employees are not well-educated about it.
Other Noteworthy Workplace Fatigue Statistics
To give you an even clearer idea about the effects of occupational fatigue, here are some other important statistics about workplace fatigue, particularly from the perspective of employers:
- 47% of employers have experienced productivity loss in their company due to fatigue.
- 50% of employers have had an employee fall asleep on the job.
- 57% of employers report absenteeism due to fatigue.
- 32% of employers report injuries and near misses due to fatigue.
Overcoming Workplace Fatigue
Experts say effectively combating workplace fatigue requires changes in both the personal lives of employees, plus good workplace policies. Some recommendations:
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Avoid using your computer or cell phones 1-2 hours prior to sleeping. Avoid stimulants like caffeine, and go to bed at a consistent and regular time.
- Stay Hydrated. Drinking adequate amount of water daily has been shown to have a major effect on brain function and energy levels.
- Move often (for office workers). Frequent movements encourage blood circulation and helps ward off fatigue. Incorporate ergonomic exercises every few hours that can be performed right at your desk.
- Eat Smarter. Food is the fuel to our bodies, and what you put in directly affects your output. Avoid overeating and foods high in artificial sugars. Pick fruits and high energy snacks instead.
- Alternate between sitting and standing. Prolonged sitting slows down our metabolism and makes us feel more sluggish. The golden ratio between sitting and standing for maximum health benefits according to research lies between 1:1 to 1:3, such as sit for 15 minutes and stand for 45 minutes (maximum). Use a tall chair optimized for standing desks to allow you to switch between the two positions easily.
- Introduce a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS). For employers, a proven method for helping fight workplace fatigue is to have a well thought out Fatigue Management System in place. This creates a process for monitoring, reporting, and dealing with workplace fatigue that everyone in the company can get on board with.
Leave a Reply