USPS Safety Spotlight - National Safety Council

Delivering Safety

April 2021

Fatigue is More Than Just Feeling Tired

Everyone has experienced a bad night’s sleep, but we don’t always think it will increase our risks at work the next day. In fact, it’s become common for us to make light of how little sleep we get on a regular basis and completely ignore that our fatigue could put ourselves or a co-worker in danger. There are plenty of steps you can take to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep, but first you need to understand the basics of fatigue. Learn the dangers of fatigue and how you can avoid it with the following member-exclusive tools:

Poster                  Safety Talk                  Tip Sheet                    Video                    

Don't Accept Fatigue as Your 'New Normal'

For many of us, feeling overtired may seem like our new normal. The COVID-19 pandemic has likely contributed to this situation, disrupting our sleep patterns and making it more difficult to find time to rest and recuperate. While you might be used to this feeling, that doesn’t make it safe. 

Adults require seven to nine hours of sleep to be fully rested, and when they don’t get it – even if they only miss an hour or two a few nights per week – they can become fatigued. 

Fatigue is a general term used to describe feelings of drowsiness or tiredness, reduced energy, and the increased effort needed to perform tasks effectively and avoid errors. If you find yourself repeatedly yawning throughout the day or nodding off – even just for a few seconds – you might be extremely fatigued. This can cause decreases in attention, memory and concentration, and by the time you realize you are fatigued, you could be putting yourself and your co-workers at risk. 

Shift workers, workers who perform a task for extended periods or repeatedly perform a tedious task, and parents of young children are among those especially at risk for fatigue. According to OSHA, long work hours and night, rotating or irregular shifts may cause worker fatigue. If your shift schedule changes frequently and you find yourself regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep, talk to your supervisor about how you can limit the risks. While it might not seem like a big deal, it can have a significant effect on your safety. 

For additional information, learn the real costs of fatigue in the workplace.  

Fatigue Puts You at Risk

Though you might not think of fatigue the way you do other workplace risks, it can be a contributing factor in many workplace incidents. Think of the last time you tried to stay awake while tired and how difficult it was to fight the urge to sleep. Doing this while driving or around dangerous machinery can create serious workplace risks. 

Injury Facts® explains that injury rates tend to increase among workers who generally sleep less than seven hours per day and workers who typically work more than 40 hours per week. Look around your workplace and consider the hazards that could arise from a fatigued co-worker. When you consider how frequently the average person feels tired, the potential for injury becomes much more real. 

In addition to these workplace risks, fatigue can also negatively impact your health. According to OSHA, fatigue is linked to health problems such as: 

  • Heart disease
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Depression
  • Some cancers
  • Obesity

Regularly getting restful sleep can help limit these dangers, so don’t ignore the signs of fatigue in yourself or your fellow employees. Talking to your co-workers and supervisor about these concerns can help keep everyone safe. 

Prevent Fatigue and Stay Safe

Your busy schedule might make fatigue seem inevitable, but there are plenty of steps you can take to help reduce your risks. It starts by recognizing the importance of quality sleep and making it a priority. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep each day, stick to a regular bedtime routine and make adjustments based on how you feel. 

Of course, just being in bed for the right amount of hours doesn’t mean you’ll avoid fatigue. Quality, restful sleep is crucial for your health and safety. To get restful sleep, remember A.C.E.S.:

A – Alcohol: Drinking alcohol can interrupt your circadian rhythm, make you more prone to snoring and sleep apnea, and cause poor-quality sleep 

C – Caffeine: Consuming caffeine can disrupt your sleep patterns, so avoid it for up to six hours before bedtime

E – Environment: Keep your bedroom cool and dark to help you sleep

S – Screens: Blue light from TVs, phones, tablets and other devices can keep your body from producing melatonin, so avoid screens for at least 30 minutes before bed

If you work the night shift, try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule even on your days off. You can also try this sleep habits assessment tool if you have trouble getting enough rest. If your employer offers a Fatigue Risk Management Program, it could be especially helpful in keeping you safe. 

If you aren’t making enough progress, consider talking to a medical professional to find out if something else is hampering your sleep. And, if you catch yourself nodding off or losing focus due to fatigue, talk with your safety professional or supervisor about how to respond. Just a few seconds of lost concentration can increase the risks to you and those around you. 

Take a look at the NSC Fatigue at Work Employer Toolkit to learn more.