By Evelyn Long
It’s been a long couple of years living in the shadow of a global pandemic, and people are tired. They’re physically and emotionally exhausted, and it’s starting to take its toll. People from all walks of life are struggling to keep up with these demands, and for some, this perpetual exhaustion is more dangerous than others. In the landscaping and grounds management business, how can we manage fatigue detection and mitigation?
Why is fatigue a problem?
At its simplest, fatigue is defined as physical or mental exhaustion. Anything can cause fatigue – from lack of sleep to trying to complete too much during a given day. Regardless of the causes, when the body and mind are both exhausted, things such as situational awareness, reaction time, and concentration are all affected. According to the CDC, driving or operating heavy equipment after not sleeping for 18 hours is roughly equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. Increase that time to 24 hours and the effects are equal to a BAC of 0.10%.
If a breathalyzer could read fatigue like it can alcohol, that would put you above the legal limit anywhere in the United States. If you have a drink after work, the effects of that alcohol will be increased because of your already existing exhaustion.
When you add heavy equipment to the mix, no matter the industry, this fatigue could lead to accidents or even fatalities on the jobsite.
Causes of fatigue in industrial settings
Any number of things can cause fatigue in the workplace, including but not limited to:
- Employees experiencing insomnia or other sleep interruptions due to stress or illness.
- Long shifts with insufficient time to recover in between.
- Lots of overtime or working more than 50 hours a week.
- Overworked employees trying to make up for business stress linked to a shrinking labor pool.
- Unhealthy eating habits.
- Chronic health conditions.
- Drug and alcohol use or substance abuse disorders.
- Tasks that require high levels of concentration.
- Repetitive or mundane tasks.
- Environmental conditions such as extreme heat or cold.
- Overnight work hours.
- Physically demanding tasks.
- An unhealthy work/life balance.
Even with all of these possible options, this is by no means an exhaustive list. The problem isn’t only in the source of the fatigue, but in what we can do to detect when an employee might be fatigued on the job, and what we can do to mitigate the risks that this fatigue might cause.
Employing fatigue detection
The first step toward managing the risks that fatigue in the workplace presents is in determining when someone is fatigued. Most people, especially those who may be concerned about their position within a company, aren’t going to complain about fatigue, even if they’re exhausted. The CDC recommends adopting fatigue monitoring and detection technologies (FMDT) to help protect people on jobsites from fatigue-related risks.
The CDC’s suggested roll-out plan includes seven steps. Start by defining the plan’s objective, whether that is to reduce fatigue on jobsites or prevent fatigue-related incidents from putting employees at risk. Regardless of the details of the objective, it will provide the foundation for your fatigue management program.
Next, work to develop a policy that outlines how fatigue detection devices will be used, who is expected to wear them, and when they’re expected to be worn. You will also need to establish a policy that outlines what data is collected, how it will be stored, and what steps you’ll take to protect the privacy of those involved.
Next, schedule a pilot program — a test run for your FMDT system to see what works, what doesn’t, and what needs changes. Gather feedback from your team. They’re the ones who will be using the technology most, so they’re the ones who should be consulted when you’re trying to tweak your program into something that meshes seamlessly with your existing policies.
Once the pilot program is over, inform your team of the new policies, train your supervisors and safety professionals, and roll out the fatigue detection plan. Finally, make sure you’re evaluating your program frequently to ensure it is still working well and doesn’t need any major alterations to improve its function.
Mitigation on the jobsite
While monitoring is critical, there are also a few management tactics and technologies that can help keep workers safe on the job.
Some equipment manufacturers include safeguards to try to prevent fatigue, and systems to help keep operators focused and comfortable. Making sure heavy equipment operators are sharp minded can do wonders for jobsite safety.
All workers can benefit from strong policies on working conditions, including regular breaks and smart shift scheduling to keep from being too worn out on the job. Putting health at the front of mind can make sure work gets done without sacrificing a worker’s mental or physical ability to stay awake and focused.
Fatigue feels like an unavoidable part of the modern adult experience, but it doesn’t have to be — and in situations where it could put people at risk, it should be avoided at all costs. Fatigue detection and mitigation is just one piece of the puzzle, but in an industrial setting where fatigue in the workplace can be fatal, it is an essential piece. Other solutions, such as fostering a healthy work/life balance or ensuring employees have sufficient time to recover after a long shift, can also help ensure people are alert and awake while they’re on the job.
Evelyn Long is a writer and editor focused on home building and construction. She is the co-founder of Renovated, a web magazine for the home industry.[Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Landscape-Business.com, a sister property to SportsField Management.]