A comprehensive program that encourages proper rest and overall health can improve employee productivity.

Fatigue is a complex issue that can be caused by a variety of factors, including work hours and work-related activities. As such, the management of fatigue is a shared responsibility between management and the employee. A fatigue management program is designed to assist employees to assess their sleep and shiftwork management practices as well as help employees to determine the level and causes of their fatigue, according to Pamela Kouri, health and wellness director for Chestnut Global Partners. In addition, a fatigue management program can help provide education and support for employees to improve the quantity and quality of their sleep as well as their overall health.

Dangers of Worker Fatigue

Fatigue, which is caused by prolonged periods of exertion without proper time to rest and recover, can result from both features of the work and workplace as well as from aspects of a worker’s personal life, according to a Seqwater report. The consequences of mild to severe fatigue can include reduced decision making ability, decreased alertness and slowed reaction time, difficulty responding to emergencies, and poor judgment of performance.

Kouri says, “Employees who have insufficient or poor quality sleep may experience difficulty concentrating, thinking clearly, or simply staying awake on the job.” The severe effects of fatigue may be more extreme in employees who work overnight hours as “erratic” sleep patterns can compound the effects of inconsistent sleep, she adds.

An overall lack of sleep can also result in increased safety risk. Kouri says, “The dangers of fatigue to employees are significant. Without obtaining enough quality sleep, the employee creates a safety risk for both the employee and his/her co-workers due to performance issues such as loss of attention, short term memory problems, poor decision making, impaired reaction time, imprudent risk taking, etc.”

Fatigue Management Program Benefits

Establishing a fatigue management program can have a number of benefits. For the business, Kouri says a comprehensive program that encourages proper rest and overall health can promote a safer, productive workforce that protects both human and capital investments.

Employees can also benefit. Kouri says, “The benefits of a comprehensive fatigue management program for the employee [include an] improved quality of life at home and work, better all-around performance, improved outlook and frame of mind, and [being more] more focused and fulfilled [at work].”

Components of an Effective Program

Several key components can help contribute to a fatigue management program’s success. Employee training is the first essential component, and training should provide in-depth and detailed information on key areas related to fatigue. Kouri says, “It’s also critical that employees are made aware of the risks of poor quality sleep, the benefits of improved sleep, and the availability of tools to help them develop good sleeping habits tailored to their work and lifestyle.” Supervisors can also play a significant part in employee training as they can provide workers with the skills and knowledge to effectively manage fatigue-related issues.

Organizational fatigue consultations and roster consultations can also be important parts of a program. An organizational fatigue consultation is designed to provide analysis and recommendations from a review of rosters, policies, and procedures, efforts to promote employee self-management, and other factors related to fatigue, Kouri says. A roster consultation aims to give a detailed assessment of the roster design that evaluates the degree of compliance with relevant regulations and codes, and also includes recommendations for corrective and mitigating strategies.

Incorporating a New Workplace Program

For businesses interested in establishing a comprehensive fatigue management program, examining how it can benefit employees is an important first step. Kouri says, “I would suggest that all companies take a broader look at how fatigue management can bolster productivity among all employees…from executives to line level staff.” Reviewing the benefits to employees will help management determine that the costs of establishing the program are worth the rewards.

Also, according to a report from BHP Billiton, managing fatigue in the workplace requires the following measures to be taken: complete a fatigue risk assessment, create a management plan to eliminate or mitigate risks, and ensure personnel are educated and informed of fatigue risk. Proper employee education should include training that focuses on understanding the effects of fatigue and how to apply personal countermeasures to managing fatigue. In addition, the training should inform employees about their responsibility to use their recovery time effectively in order to arrive at work rested.

Kouri says, “Emphasizing safety and productivity as an overarching priority will require comprehensive organizational effort involving development of policies, use of technology, and most importantly, interventions that enhance awareness, motivation, and provide easy access to the support and tools needed to develop an individualized fatigue management treatment plan.”

In addition, once a program is established, businesses can evaluate the success of the program by exploring several different factors. According to Kouri, these factors can include reviewing employee and performance productivity, safety metrics, and job life satisfaction, as well as any decreases in employee healthcare costs. However, Kouri says outside of these safety metrics, the value of these other indicators is more intuitive than documented. She says, “Everyone knows the effects of quality sleep—the energy, clarity of thought, positive outlook, etc, all of which contributes to improved performance.”

Sleep Health and the Workplace

A corporate fatigue management program has a number of benefits for both the employer and employees, such as improvement in overall employee health and wellness and enhanced productivity and performance. This type of program can also improve safety. According to Kouri, “The human mind/body is designed in such a way that if individuals are obtaining enough quality sleep…employees will have sufficient energy and focus to be safe and productive. Yet, many people are not aware or take the time to seek possible behavioral and/or medical solutions….This is where organizational health and safety programs can play a greater role.”

Cassandra Perez is associate editor for Sleep Review. CONTACT [email protected]