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Sleeping on the Job: Worker Fatigue Can Lead to Serious Injuries

We have all heard the phrase “sleeping on the job” in many different contexts and situations. Sometimes, it seems innocuous enough, but when other peoples’ lives rely on you doing your job, dozing off for a few minutes can have disastrous consequences.

An airline pilot approaching Washington’s National Airport radioed the tower with his position, seeking assistance with landing. When the tower did not respond after numerous attempts, he proceeded to land the plane anyway. A few minutes later a second pilot encountered the same radio silence. He also proceeded to land his plane without any guidance. And the reason for the silence: the air traffic controller had fallen asleep at his desk. He had worked four overnight shifts in a row, and was once again working the late shift by himself. The fatigue finally got to him.

While both of those pilots were able to successfully land, the incident could have ended much worse. In fact, fatigue was believed to be contributing factors to major industrial accidents like the Exxon Valdez oil spill and Chernobyl.

Workplace fatigue has become a growing problem in all areas of the working world. The need for sleep is the second most powerful urge human beings have behind breathing. Being tired can be a bigger problem than most realize. A study by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reported that nearly 40 percent of workers in the United States experience fatigue, resulting in billions of dollars in lost productivity.

As a worker, fatigue on the job can have many consequences. It can reduce decision making skills, shorten attention spans, shorten reaction times, and make a worker more likely to take on risks. Because of this workers tend to be less cognizant of dangerous situations and situations where corrective action is needed. Depending on the type of work, this fatigue can lead to injuries in the workplace as well.

Fatigued workers in warehouses could result in boxes and pallets not being handled with care, leading to poorly loaded pallets and erratic forklift operation.

Fatigued construction workers could be injured after operating power tools, driving drowsy to the worksite or injuring others by dropping heavy equipment. Fatigued workers in factories could lead to carelessness while operating industrial machinery.

While not all jobs have a physical component in which fatigue could seriously injure another or cause actual damage, the consequences of workplace fatigue can be seen in more sedentary roles and desk jobs through decreased productivity. Fatigue can make it so tasks become more complicated and take longer than they normally would.

Fatigue in the workplace can be caused by many different things from a person’s own physical well being including stress level to the environment they work in. Many workers are exposed to such things as poor lighting, long shifts, too few or no breaks at all, and jobs that require long hours of physical activity. As with anything else, a worker’s well-being is the first and most important step to helping with fatigue in the workplace. But not all employers place a high emphasis on their employees’ well being.

In any context, being “sleepy” on the job can be a problem – whether that job is located at a desk, in a warehouse or in an airport control tower. Contact an attorney if you were overworked and an injury occurred. Call Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. at (408) 289-1417 today.

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