Identify causes of sleep deprivation to avoid employee injuries

When employees do not get enough sleep before the work day, they may be prone to lower levels of productivity and higher chances of injury. Employers may require insight into the causes of sleep deprivation to determine how they can minimize the risk of inadequate sleep. One of the reasons why employees may not have restful sleep at night may be employees working longer hours, Safety and Health Magazine reported. 

John Caldwell, a sleep, health and fatigue risk management consultant with Miller Ergonomics, said work hours have been increasing over the past decades, which leaves little time for sleep, according to Safety and Health Magazine.

“We still, as a culture, admire the guy who pulls the all-nighter and goes and works the next day or gets in his [vehicle] and drives halfway across the country,” Caldwell said. “We look at that person and go, ‘Wow, what a guy!’ This is despite the years of research that show this guy is just as dangerous on the highway, if not more so, as someone who is intoxicated.”

Impacts of lack of sleep on productivity, worker safety
There are studies that point to decreased productivity from lack of sleep. A recent study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) found being sleep deprivation has the same outcomes on students as those who indulge in binge drinking. A separate study published in the Journal of Vision discovered workers who need to be alert and whose jobs depend on visual perception, such as air traffic controllers, may not function and perform their job effectively without the right amount of sleep, according to Safety and Health Magazine.

The physical activities employees have to engage in during work can also be affected because of slower response times, according to Thomas Balkin, chief of the department of behavioral biology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and former chairman of the board of directors for the National Sleep Foundation.

“For workers running a forklift, driving a truck, using heavy equipment, they are absolutely, positively going to be slower to react and not be able to perform with the acuity necessary to do whatever the job is,” Balkin said.

While productivity may be impacted by sleep deprivation, employers also may see increased healthcare costs from a higher chance of employee injuries and illnesses.

Workers may be at risk for health issues related to bloodstream and hormone levels because they may not be able to get enough sleep to allow their internal systems to rejuvenate, according to Michael Twery, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Division of Lung Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

Safety and Health Magazine cited another study that found sleep deprived healthcare workers had a higher risk of musculoskeletal pain and physical limitations.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cautions employers to recognize the hazards associated with sleep deprivation. The agency said companies may want to address these hazards by minimizing extended shifts and allowing employees to take breaks to improve their concentration.

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