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Worker Fatigue and Safety

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When you’re tired, you make careless mistakes that you’d cringe at when you’re more alert. At best, fatigue-related errors waste time and money. At worst, they pose a serious health and safety risk, up to and including the risk of bodily injury or even death. Getting enough sleep is crucial to being a safe, competent electrician. But many people – especially those in the industry – don’t get nearly enough sleep to be at their best.

Why Fatigue is Dangerous

When you’re tired, you’re impaired. That impairment is the same as if you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you wouldn’t show up to the jobsite after a few drinks, you shouldn’t show up after fighting insomnia all night.

It’s not hyperbole to compare the effects of fatigue to intoxication. Studies have shown that after 17 hours awake, you perform as though you have a blood alcohol content of 0.05. Most people would be at least tipsy. After 21 hours awake, you perform as though you’re at the maximum legal limit for driving with alcohol in your system — it’s equivalent to a BAC of 0.08. After 24 to 25 hours awake, your impairment rises to the equivalent of a BAC of 0.10.

When you’re fatigued, you’ve got reduced mental and physical function. Your judgment and concentration are interrupted and unfocused. You’ll experience less motivation, a slow reaction time and may notice an increase in risk-taking – possibly as a result of fatigue or to rush through tasks to get them done and go in search of much-needed rest.

Preventing Fatigue

It’s simple to instruct your workers to get a good night’s sleep, but the reality of being well-rested goes beyond that. Loss of sleep isn’t the only factor that contributes to fatigue: prolonged work, stress, and anxiety can all add to fatigue. Engaging in boring or repetitive tasks only serves to intensify fatigue.

It’s important to foster a culture of restfulness on the jobsite to mitigate the effects of worker fatigue. Encourage frequent rest and meaningful breaks while on the jobsite. If you’re too tired to work, go home and get some rest. If you’re performing repetitive work, take breaks or switch tasks to fend off mental exhaustion that can exacerbate physical fatigue.

How Much Sleep Wards off Fatigue?

Every person is different, but the average person needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night of restful sleep. Not all sleep is restful — if you suffer from insomnia, anxiety, sleep apnea or narcolepsy, 7 to 9 hours of sleep may not be enough to restore full mental and physical functionality. If you keep awakening to use the restroom or jump awake because of nightmares or to tend to your child, you’re not getting the type of quality sleep you need to fight off fatigue. Speak to your doctor about cultivating and maintaining healthy sleep hygiene to support restfulness. Clearing up physical issues that contribute to fatigue and weakness can lead to a more meaningful night’s sleep while sorting out emotional and mental issues contributing to fatigue can do the same. Your doctor may recommend medication for short-term relief from insomnia or anxiety.

Warding off Fatigue on the Jobsite

You don’t always have a choice in leaving early or completing a job when you’re better rested. If you must work while fatigued, strive to make your environment less encouraging of fatigue. Brighten the space up, keep your eyes moving and looking around when it’s safe to do so and take breaks as possible and as needed. Consider lowering the temperature, noise level and comfort level of your work site, as warmth and comfort can cause drowsiness. Loud environments can cause your brain to lose focus, leading to worsened fatigue. Pace yourself and break up repetitive or monotonous tasks.

How do you deal with fatigue on the jobsite in a healthy manner? What steps do you take to ensure you get enough rest?

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