Workplace fatigue costs American industry $77 billion per year, says survey

May 13, 2002—Fatigue in the workplace costs American industry at least $77 billion per year, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) annual “Sleep in America” poll. According to the poll, most Americans agree that inadequate sleep impairs their work performance and puts them at increased risk for accidents, injuries, and health problems.

Employee fatigue has been linked to many of the most notorious incidents of our time, including the Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island, not to mention up to 25% of all highway accidents, according to Circadian Technologies (CTI), an international research and consulting firm that implements corporate programs to reduce risk from human factors in the workplace.

Over 45% of companies with round-the-clock operations view the business risks associated with fatigue as severe to moderate, according to CTI’s annual Shiftwork Practices Survey. CTI’s survey finds that operations managers believe employee fatigue to be the direct cause of at least 18% of all accidents and injuries suffered in their facilities.

Numerous studies have shown that shiftworkers are twice as likely as the average American to suffer from sleep apnea, which results in constantly interrupted sleep and is directly linked to higher workplace accident rates. Sleep apnea is characterized by loud snoring and numerous instances of pauses in breathing during sleep. Workplace fatigue is also a major factor in the stress levels of many employees, with nearly 75% of American nurses claiming that stress and overwork is the number one concern they face in their jobs.

Recent court cases holding companies liable for employees who suffer fatigue -related injuries, as well as the current environment of soaring insurance premiums, are increasing pressure on companies to take proactive steps to reduce the chronic levels of drowsy employees in their workplaces.

According to the NSF poll, a majority of Americans support increased regulation on the number of hours worked by employees in demanding professions—such as doctors, pilots, and truck drivers. Legislators in many states are already drafting legislation to limit the work hours of doctors and nurses, and industry interest groups continue to debate federal government efforts to revisit hours-of-service regulations in trucking, motorcoach, aviation, and rail industries.

According to CTI’s 20 years of research, companies can reduce the business risk from human factors by:

  • Evaluating schedules to determine which are least fatiguing and ensure the highest levels of performance and safety.
  • Educating employees on how to reduce the risks associated with managing their lives around their work schedules.
  • Performing periodic health and safety assessments of employees in order to implement programs to control risks from human factors.
  • Measuring employee fatigue levels while on duty, and providing an alternative framework to hours of service regulations.

Based on a release from Circadian Technologies