Safety is a major concern for construction firms. Most improvement efforts focus on repairing and maintaining equipment or removing hazards from the job site. But little attention is paid to workers who aren’t getting enough rest.
Sleep deprivation can lead to increased injuries and fatalities. In addition, the risk of chronic health issues — including depression, obesity and even cancer — increases for workers who don’t sleep enough.
Reasons for sleep deprivation include:
- Health issues,
- Personal problems,
- Demands of daily life, and
- Job stress
Whatever the cause, the dangers associated with sleep deprivation are real. Here are eight common problems associated with this condition.
- Poor performance.Fatigued workers simply don’t perform as well as those who are rested. Workers don’t move and react as fast when they haven’t slept well.
- Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes.Tired workers typically react more slowly and make more mistakes on the job. This includes errors of commission (where an act causes damage) and errors of omission (where the worker’s failure to do something ends up harming a person or delaying the job).
- Communication issues.When workers are fatigued, they may not enunciate as clearly as usual. In addition, they may pause for long stretches, mumble or mispronounce their words, or distort language in a variety of other ways. This can lead to confusion and injuries when tired workers aren’t understood.
- Distractions.Tired workers tend to be easily distracted. They may have trouble following instructions or meeting safety standards because they aren’t wide awake. As a result, they could be injured or cause an injury to someone else.
- Impaired driving.It’s well-established how trucker performance is impaired by sleep deprivation. While your workers likely aren’t handling 18-wheelers, there are still legitimate concerns driving back and forth from job sites as well as operating heavy vehicles in the field.
- Memory lapses.Fatigue can result in a loss of short-term memory that results in setbacks or long-term memory where a worker fails to react in a way that he or she has been instructed to do.
- Mood swings.Sleep deprivation can affect the mood or attitude of workers. They may become surly or irritable, exhibit childish behavior, or even show a lack of regard for usual social conventions. Others may become withdrawn or unwilling to engage in necessary conversation.
- Poor decision-making.Sleep deprivation affects judgment. Studies have shown that people are inclined to take greater risks than usual without enough sleep. Risk-taking by tired workers can create hazards.
These problems aren’t independent of one another. Fatigued workers typically will exhibit several of these traits. What’s more, the problems compound over time. One or two nights of sleep deprivation can affect the way a worker functions the next day. If this persists for a week or beyond, the chances of an accident happening will only increase.
Steps to Reduce Worker Fatigue
While you can’t tell your employees when to go to bed and get up, there are certain steps that a construction manager or supervisor can take to improve the likelihood that workers will be rested well enough to perform soundly and safely. Consider the following practical suggestions.
Set sensible hours. Be reasonable about the hours you expect crews to work. When it comes to staying late, weigh all the relevant factors, including the imposition on workers’ personal lives and sleep habits. Constantly requiring workers to put in extra time can result in sleep deprivation or fatigue.
Don’t contact workers after hours. You aren’t helping your workers get the sleep they need by making frantic late-night calls about the next day’s work. Call workers during off-hours only in emergencies and respect their privacy.
Encourage exercise and healthy diets. The better physical shape employees are in, the better they’re likely to perform. You might even set up an exercise plan within the firm or offer incentives for joining a gym. Similarly, stress the importance of healthy eating habits, even though this can be difficult in remote job sites.
Cut down on caffeine. Caffeine can be a contributing factor to a lack of sleep and should be monitored. If you’re constantly getting coffee for the crew, especially in the late afternoon, you may be part of the problem, not the solution. Drinking coffee or caffeinated soft drinks can impair sleep even if they’re consumed hours before bedtime. Offer water, juice or other beverages instead.
Allow frequent breaks. We’re not talking about the bare minimum required by law. When it’s appropriate, provide workers with extra breaks, or a longer break than usual, to offset difficult working conditions, especially in inclement weather. By energizing workers in this manner, you can expect better results.
There are many reasons for sleep deprivation you have no control over, but you should address the areas where you can help. This is for the good of everyone concerned — your firm, your customers and your workers. And don’t turn a blind eye to potential problems: If you see workers struggling with fatigue, act swiftly and decisively to get them out of harm’s way.
Has Sleep Deprivation Become an Epidemic?
“Sleep is the most under-appreciated health crisis in America,” states TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz.
He helped commission an extensive new sleep study of 20,000 individuals in conjunction with ResMed, a firm producing sleep-related products. According to the study, a staggering 79% of Americans get less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
In addition, more than 30% of survey respondents have a SleepScore of 55 or less (out of 100), a new statistic developed by Oz and ResMed. The average American SleepScore is 77.
The SleepScore is based on several factors, including gender, weight and height, age, and estimated hours of sleep a night.
Some of the causes cited for low SleepScores are:
- Taking too long to fall asleep,
- Waking up in the middle of the night,
- Being excessively tired during the day,
- Waking up early and not being able to go back to sleep,
- Moving during sleep,
- Amount of caffeine consumed late in the day, and
- Amount of exercise in a week.