Feb 19, 2008

Recognizing fatigue in shiftworkers

It is important for shiftworkers to be able to recognize fatigue’s signs and symptoms and for managers and co-workers to know what to look for in others. Fatigue affects hand-eye skills, judgment, decision-making, responsiveness, and more. Fatigued workers take greater risks and make more errors.

Here are some warning signs to watch out for:
  • Degraded performance while driving, monitoring equipment, operating and maintaining machinery, performing medical procedures, etc. This translates into degraded vigilance and decision-making and your margin for error, or safety margin, is decreased.
  • Poor memory (forgetful), poor decisions, apathetic, lethargic, bad mood, and nodding off.
  • Decreased hand-eye coordination, and poor communication and information processing.
  • Poor decision-making -- fixation on certain aspects of a situation to the neglect of other information.
  • Poorer performance despite increased effort. People are poor judges of our own performance levels so it is important for co-workers to watch for this.
  • Slowed reaction time: it takes longer to react to unsafe conditions, and to shut down equipment in time and to avoid any roadway obstructions.
  • Reduced vigilance and lower alertness levels.
  • Lapses in attention: inability to concentrate and keep a visual scan of instruments and gauges.
  • “I just want to get finished” attitude. We tend to press the envelope of safety more because we are too tired to realize how badly the fatigue is affecting our performance, or we just want to be finished. We also accept lower standards.

When you see these signs in yourself or others, it is important to implement appropriate fatigue countermeasures, for the health and safety of the shiftworker and the safe and smooth running of the operation.

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