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Worker Fatigue


The American workforce is overall exhausted. The National Safety Council (NSC) reports at least 69% of employees in our country are suffering from fatigue while on the job and many of these workers are in safety-critical industries such as construction.

Fatigue: The Overlooked Construction Hazard

There is no doubt that the construction industry is dangerous: working form terrifying heights, with hazardous equipment, and toxic chemicals that could all pose serious harm to workers in the case of an accident. Working in construction puts employees at a higher risk of injury or illness, regardless of if they are alert on the job and using proper safety precautions, but adding fatigue into the equation can make even the simplest work task dangerous and deadly. Fatigue is often overlooked as a serious safety hazard in the workplace, leading to unnecessary accidents, catastrophic losses, and long-term health conditions that can severely change the course of a worker’s life.

What’s Causing Construction Worker Fatigue

Worker fatigue does not occur from just one night of staying up late. Fatigue, as defined by Mayo Clinic, is an unrelenting exhaustion that lasts longer, is more profound, and isn’t relieved by a good night’s rest or day of relaxation.

Construction workers are known to perform draining, physically laboring tasks on an average workday, giving them a predisposition to developing fatigue aside from what’s happening in their personal life. Constructconnect lists a number of factors that are related to the onset of workers fatigue in the construction industry, the most common including:

  • extended work hours
  • early morning or late night shifts
  • increased workloads
  • physically demanding tasks
  • repetitive physical work
  • work that requires a high level of concentration
  • using heavy and difficult equipment
  • working in demanding environmental conditions (extreme heat, cold temperatures, inclement weather)

In addition to these stressors, employees have a life outside of the workplace that can contribute to a lack of sleep leading to fatigue. Unhealthy eating habits, high caffeine intake, drug and alcohol use, medications, and medical conditions that lead to a lack of adequate sleep can all pile up on top of extreme work exhaustion. leading to extreme fatigue that causes workers to make harmful and fatal mistakes on the job.

Signs of Work Fatigue

Fatigue is a feeling of constant tiredness but it’s not entirely easy to spot. Workers who are suffering from fatigue will not always be the employees falling asleep during a lunch break and the signs of fatigue will vary from person to person.

Better Health Channel lists a range of  physical, mental, and emotional symptoms workers and employers can watch out for when identifying employees who might be suffering fatigue on the job:

  • sore and aching muscles
  • dizziness
  • chronic tiredness
  • headaches
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes
  • blurry vision
  • impaired judgment
  • moodiness
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • appetite loss
  • hallucinations
  • poor immune system responses to illnesses
  • low motivation
  • inability to pay attention
  • balance issues

Some of these symptoms are easy to excuse for having a bad day or link to other unreliable causes. But when pairing these symptoms with other lapses in a worker’s performance, fatigue can be identified as the root to more issues that employers are aware of.

How Fatigue Affects Job Performance

Construction is an industry where staying alert is critical. If construction employees are not paying attention on the job, their mistakes could cause serious injuries and illnesses to themselves, to their co-workers, and even to civilians who are nearby the worksite.

Workers who are fatigued on the job site are more likely to experience shortcomings during the workday, such as:

  • decreased work performance
  • decreased productivity
  • increased tardiness or absences
  • inability to safely perform job tasks
  • delayed response/reaction time
  • lack of alertness to hazards around them
  • poor relationships with co-workers
  • inability to follow directions or carry out instructions

The most concerning consequence of fatigue on the job is a worker’s increased involvement in work accidents. Workers who suffer fatigue are 70% more likely to be involved in industrial-related accidents compared to employees getting sufficient sleep, according to an article by Code Red Safety. These accidents in the construction industry could result in loss of limbs, broken bones, traumatic brain or spinal injuries, disabling or life-threatening injuries, or most tragically worker and civilian fatalities.

Health Hazards of Fatigue

As humans, sleep is vital to keeping us alive and well.  Without sleep, our bodies and brains do not function properly, leaving us vulnerable to making mistakes we normally wouldn’t. The average adult needs between seven to nine hours of sleep a night according to the National Health Interview Survey. Unfortunately, most adults are averaging six hours of sleep or less a night, leaving about 70 million Americans suffering from sleep deprivation and disorders while performing highly dangerous jobs.

A long-term lack of sleep can cause a person to become more susceptible to developing serious health conditions including:

  • obesity
  • cardiovascular disease
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • stress
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes

Developing these condition would not only prevent a worker from performing their job efficiently, but it could also result in the loss of employment and reduce their quality of life overall.

Combatting Construction Fatigue

Luckily, fatigue is not an unpreventable condition or disease. Fatigue is a symptom of not enough sleep and can be reduced by making significant changes to your lifestyle and work habits. Construct Connect suggests construction workers take the following steps to reduce their risks of fatigue:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Cut back on junk food, alcohol, and caffeine.
  • Take naps and breaks when able.
  • Exercise regular to boost energy.
  • Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night or during the day for night shifts.
  • Seek professional or medical intervention to address sleep disorders.

Obviously, employers are not able to control their worker’s sleeping habits or lifestyle choices. However, putting fatigue safety practices in place within the workplace to promote safe sleep habits and a healthy work environment can help encourage employees to make better choices at home and alert others to recognize danger signs of sleep deprivation:

  • Developing a fatigue management plan to reduce accidents.
  • Spreading awareness of the dangers of worker fatigue and what employers should do if they are experiencing it or notice coworkers suffering.
  • Not overloading workers with unrealistic expectations and tasks to avoid employees pushing themselves too hard to complete them.
  • Monitoring works for signs of fatigue during shifts.
  • Using wearable technology to help determine when workers are too tired to perform tasks safely.
  • Ensuring workers are getting enough to eat and drink while at work and proving meals/water during long shifts.

Protect NYC Construction Workers From Fatigue

Fatigue is a serious condition that should not be made light of or ignored in the workplace, particularly in jobs such as construction with increased risks of injuries. Employees and employers in construction both need to work together to combat the fatigue epidemic putting so many lives at risk by making immediate changes to work policies and promoting self-care at home to increase the chances of healthier sleep for workers.

The law firm to Pazer, Epstein, Jaffe, and Fein has been fighting for the rights of New York City construction workers for over 50 years. Our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is here to help if you or a loved one has experienced a serious construction injury and will provide a free case review to assist you in seeking justice for your accident.

Contact us using our convenient online form or feel free to phone us in New York at 212-227-1212, or in Huntington/Long Island at 631-864-2429.

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