Battling Fatigue

Saturday, June 2, 2012
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Fatigue -- described as a decreased state of alertness -- may impair a worker's safety, health and productivity, costing employers billions of dollars each year.

But companies that implement programs to address fatigue can improve the health and well-being of their workers as well as cut down on needless expense.

"There is a growing recognition of the role of fatigue management in enhancing safety in the workplace," says Dr. Steve Lerman. "Most of the attention to this issue has historically been focused on the transportation industries. However, the focus is now expanding to other industries."

Lerman is the lead author of Fatigue Risk Management in the Workplace, a new guidance statement from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, based in Elk Grove Villages, Ill. The paper was created to provide occupational physicians with strategies to help organizations address fatigue.

While many people think of fatigue and sleepiness as the same, they are not.

"Sleepiness is just the tendency to fall asleep due to insufficient sleep, while fatigue is the body's response to prolonged mental or physical activity as well as to sleep loss," says Dr. Natalie P. Hartenbaum, immediate past president of the ACOEM.

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A fatigue-risk management system "is, at its core, a safety program," Lerman says. "In addition to increased safety, an effective FRMS should enhance productivity, employee health, and product quality."

The authors say there is no one-size-fits-all FRMS, and identify the following five key components:

* Balance between workload and staffing;

* Shift scheduling;

* Employee fatigue training and sleep-disorder management;

* Workplace-environment design; and

* Fatigue monitoring and alertness for duty.

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