The Hidden Hazard in the Workplace: Employee Sleep Deprivation

Safety is a major concern for construction firms. Most improvement efforts focus on repairing and maintaining equipment or removing hazards from the job site. But little attention is paid to workers who aren’t getting enough rest.
Sleep deprivation can lead to increased injuries and fatalities. In addition, the risk of chronic health issues — including depression, obesity and even cancer — increases for workers who don’t sleep enough.

Reasons for sleep deprivation include:

  • Health issues
  • Personal problems
  • Demands of daily life
  • Job stress

Common Problems with Sleep Deprivation at Work 
Whatever the cause, the dangers associated with sleep deprivation are real. Here are eight common problems associated with this condition.

1. Poor performance. Fatigued workers simply don’t perform as well as those who are rested. Workers don’t move and react as fast when they haven’t slept well.

2. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. Tired workers typically react more slowly and make more mistakes on the job. This includes errors of commission (where an act causes damage) and errors of omission (where the worker’s failure to do something ends up harming a person or delaying the job).

3. Communication issues. When workers are fatigued, they may not enunciate as clearly as usual. In addition, they may pause for long stretches, mumble or mispronounce their words, or distort language in a variety of other ways. This can lead to confusion and injuries when tired workers aren’t understood.

4. Distractions. Tired workers tend to be easily distracted. They may have trouble following instructions or meeting safety standards because they aren’t wide awake. As a result, they could be injured or cause an injury to someone else.

5. Impaired driving. It’s well-established how trucker performance is impaired by sleep deprivation. While your workers likely aren’t handling 18-wheelers, there are still legitimate concerns driving back and forth from job sites as well as operating heavy vehicles in the field. 6. Memory lapses. Fatigue can result in a loss of short-term memory that results in setbacks or long-term memory where a worker fails to react in a way that he or she has been instructed to do.

7. Mood swings. Sleep deprivation can affect the mood or attitude of workers. They may become surly or irritable, exhibit childish behavior, or even show a lack of regard for usual social conventions. Others may become withdrawn or unwilling to engage in necessary conversation.

8. Poor decision-making. Sleep deprivation affects judgment. Studies have shown that people are inclined to take greater risks than usual without enough sleep. Risk-taking by tired workers can create hazards. These problems aren’t independent of one another. Fatigued workers typically will exhibit several of these traits. What’s more, the problems compound over time. One or two nights of sleep deprivation can affect the way a worker functions the next day. If this persists for a week or beyond, the chances of an accident happening will only increase.

Take Control of Your Employees’ Sleep Deprivation 
There are many reasons for sleep deprivation you have no control over, but you should address the areas where you can help. This is for the good of everyone concerned — your firm, your customers and your workers. And don’t turn a blind eye to potential problems: If you see workers struggling with fatigue, act swiftly and decisively to get them out of harm’s way.

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