Workplace fatigue is a serious and growing problem in New Jersey and around the country, and it is thought to cost U.S. employers more than $136 billion each year in lost productivity and increased health care costs. Workers who are too tired to perform their duties effectively are far more likely to be injured on the job, and some of the most deadly workplace accidents, such as the disasters at the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear plants, were caused in part by fatigue.
The risks of workplace fatigue are highest among evening and night shift workers. Data gathered by the Department of Labor reveal that accidents and injuries are 18% more common during evening shifts and 30% more common during night shifts. Workers who work shifts of 10 hours or longer or who have long commutes are also more prone to excessive tiredness while on the job.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration encourages employers to bear these statistics in mind when arranging schedules. When long shifts that stretch late into the night cannot be avoided, the federal agency recommends giving workers frequent opportunities to rest and ensuring that the workplace environment is set up to improve alertness. This can sometimes be accomplished by adjusting workplace temperatures and lighting. Workers should also be provided with training that informs them about the dangers of fatigue and the importance of adequate rest.
Prolonged fatigue can also lead to serious health problems. Workers who develop debilitating medical conditions because their work schedules do not allow for adequate recuperation may pursue workers’ compensation benefits, but this type of claim is frequently challenged by employers. Attorneys could advocate on behalf of workers during appeals hearings and help them to gather medical evidence to show that their health problems are job-related.