Being tired at work is more than a mere inconvenience. It also increases the risk of causing workplace accidents. Fatigue-related workplace accidents do not only injure tired workers: unsuspecting coworkers are also put in danger - as are members of the public who happen to be in the area.
The exclusive remedy provisions of workers' compensation laws prevent workers from suing their colleagues - or their employer - for negligence resulting in a workplace accident. The trade-off is no-fault workers' compensation. That means even if the job site accident occurred because you were too tired and made an error, you should still be able to collect compensation.
The Facts About Workplace Fatigue
According to the National Safety Council, approximately 13 percent of all workplace accidents can be attributed to fatigue. While fatigue is not as prevalent as other risk factors, the damage it causes is significant. EHS Today notes that the Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island accidents were all caused by worker fatigue. EHS also estimates that workplace fatigue costs American industries at least $77 billion per year, and that is the cause of approximately 25 percent of all highway accidents in the United States.
Workplace accidents related to fatigue tend to increase when workers are subject to night or swing shifts, as well as irregular work schedules that interfere with healthy sleep patterns. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that accident and injury rates are 18 percent higher on evening shifts, and 30 percent higher on night shifts, than injury rates on day shifts. OSHA also reports that working twelve hours per day is correlated with a 37 percent increase in the risk of sustaining a workplace injury. The New England Journal of Medicine performed a fatigue study on medical residents. The researchers found that, for every extended shift scheduled in a month, the resident experienced a 16.2 percent increase in the risk of being in an auto accident on the way home from work. In addition to interfering with restful sleep, shift work also increases the likelihood of sleep apnea. EHS Today reports that shift workers are twice as likely to suffer from sleep apnea than the average American.
What Workers Can Do to Reduce Workplace Fatigue
The National Safety Council has identified nine risk factors for workplace fatigue. These include: shift work; high-risk hours (work during the late night or early morning); demanding jobs; long shifts; long weeks; sleep loss; no rest breaks; quick shift returns (fewer than twelve hours between shifts); and long commutes. While employees don't have the power to change all aspects of their work schedule, there are small and important changes that can make a difference. For example: a worker with a long commute may consider carpooling with coworkers, or accessing public transportation.
Workers with alternating shifts should talk to their employers about the possibility of establishing a fixed schedule in order to maintain healthy sleep patterns. Workers should also ensure that their employers are not violating state labor laws related to rest periods and overtime payment.
Contact an experienced Scranton workers' compensation attorney as soon as possible after any workplace accident. Injured workers have legal rights to workers' compensation coverage which must be protected.