The Hidden Dangers of Employee Fatigue: Industry Insights

Today’s post is a guest contribution from the public sector team at UKG. It continues the UKG Workforce Institute’s new series, Industry Insights, featuring practical strategies for professionals in specific industries, written by subject-matter experts in those industries. 
 
Extreme tiredness, otherwise known as fatigue, is something we’ve all faced, but maybe never thought of as outright dangerous. According to a recent report from Barrett and Greene, however, the dangers of workers who are working too many hours in a shift, aren’t getting proper rest between shifts, and not taking enough time off are becoming an increasing concern for employers. 
 
Think about this: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looked at several studies comparing sleep-deprivation impairments with impairments due to alcohol intoxication. The studies concluded that being awake for 17 hours is similar to having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%, and being awake for 24 hours is similar to having a BAC of 0.10%. (Note: The United States defines legal intoxication for purposes of driving as a BAC of 0.08% or greater. However, driving impairments are seen at a BAC of 0.05%.) 
 
Most 24/7 operations are ripe for employee-fatigue issues. The requirements of these jobs — such as nursing, law enforcement, road maintenance, and corrections — come with the need for round-the-clock coverage. The reality is these workers are already at a disadvantage by working at night, and managers are challenged with keeping posts filled when employees call out or take vacation. Seems like an impossible situation. However, getting smart about the effects fatigue has on employees and looking at different ways to solve the problem without drastic measures are good steps toward better health and wellbeing. 
 
The Barrett and Greene report highlights the dangers of fatigue through a variety of (and unfortunately real) scenarios, such as falling asleep at the wheel, slow reactions to hazardous work conditions, and an array of health problems. Employers are getting wise to the benefits of monitoring individual overtime and shift work schedules by not just allowing managers to be reactive to shift needs, though. 
 
At the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC), for example, they are using dashboards through their UKG solution to proactively look for patterns and outliers. “You can tell (supervisors) over and over again that they’re working people too much, but until you show them in a way that jumps off of the page, it doesn’t become clear. That’s when people really start to say, ‘Okay. I can see it now,’” said Cliff Hogan, director of data management at the GDC. 
 
Visibility puts employers at an advantage. Consider more than just the benefits of better productivity and increased retention. This could save a life. 
 
GDC took this data and is considering alternative solutions like the loaning of employees from one prison or detention center to another, opening up more part-time jobs and establishing “tiger teams,” which are often used in business to provide cross-functional help when needed. Even small considerations such as light therapy, naps, and self-care education can have positive impacts on employee experience and reduction in fatigue-related incidents. 
 
The most important lesson we can all learn from the report is to not wait until something bad happens to take action. 

To learn more about what organizations can do to prevent employee fatigue, read the full report, “Fatigue in the Public Sector Workplace: Risks and Solutions.”