Nodding off over an office desk may not make the boss happy, but rarely creates a life-threatening risk to coworkers. However, in many oil and gas operations, personal exhaustion is a much more serious threat. Fatigued workers suffer mental impairment comparable to intoxication, so it should come as no surprise that fatigue is a leading cause of injury and accidents in the energy industry.
The Cost of an Exhausted Workforce
Drivers and vehicle operators are a primary concern when it comes to workplace fatigue. Lack of sleep and sufficient rest can seriously impair driving ability, which places the driver and everyone else on the road at greater risk. Likewise, equipment operators on-site need a clear head and sound judgement when piloting dangerous vehicles around other people.
Death or permanent injury due to fatigue is a price that’s already too high. However, even minor injuries or general lack of productivity from fatigue can also place tangible stress on an organization. A workforce prone to fatigue is less productive and less engaged, which is bad news for any employer.
Fatigue Risk Factors
Not getting enough sleep is the most obvious risk factor for fatigue and is a common one for many workers in the energy industry. However, there are plenty of other policies and habits that can wear down even the toughest workforce, including:
- Insufficient recreation
- Fluctuating schedule
- Distance from emotional support
- Diet and hydration
- Long commutes
The sleeping, recreational and nutritional amenities available to employees can have a huge impact on their overall fatigue. This is particularly true for long-term shifts at remote sites where workers are effectively isolated from society for prolonged periods. Cramped quarters, lack of privacy and the social stress that accompanies these issues can have negative consequences for mental health.
There are also several factors that indicate workers are at high-risk of fatigue-related accident or injury. An unstable or rotating sleep schedule is a common problem for many workers because it doesn’t give the body enough time to adapt to new sleeping patterns. People who routinely work 12 hour shifts or work without rest breaks are also considered to be at high risk of exhaustion.
Fatigue Risk Management Strategies
Many employers understand the concept of workplace fatigue but hesitate to direct resources at addressing it compared to more serious or imminent issues. The consequences of an exhausted workforce may not be apparent or urgent most of the time, but they can have a defining influence on the long-term trajectory of the entire organization.
A few long shifts isn’t the end of the world, but companies should take steps to ensure that they aren’t placing too much pressure on individual workers. This may include drafting more stable or consistent schedules and hiring a few more people to fill in the gaps. Employers should also consider worker feedback as they formulate a comprehensive fatigue risk management strategy.
Expeditors and Production Services (EPS) emphasizes safety in all of our solutions, which is why we educate our clients about the real impact of worker fatigue and the solutions available to address it. We help clients become aware of key issues so they can take action to effectively address the problems that are holding them back from creating a safer and more productive work environment.