Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?

How one pipeline company implemented a fatigue risk management system to keep employees safe.

Emily Whitcomb
March 11, 2019

As employers grapple with the many challenges to workplace productivity and employee wellbeing, one factor is becoming increasingly important: workplace fatigue.

Many adults struggle to sleep the optimal seven to nine hours each day. In fact, in an NSC survey, 43% of Americans said they get less than seven hours of sleep a night. Losing even two hours of sleep from the optimal eight hours is similar to the effect of drinking two to three beers, an impairment that would never be acceptable in the workplace. Sleep loss also should be considered a genuine impairment and be treated seriously, not only as we set our clocks ahead for Daylight Saving Time, but throughout the year.

Employers are starting to implement proactive measures to reduce the effects of fatigue on their organizations. One such employer, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, shared experiences and key learnings about its fatigue risk management system at the recent NSC Workplace Fatigue Conference in Seattle.

Alyeska, the company that operates and maintains the Trans Alaska Pipeline System, determined fatigue is an inherent risk for their organization. The safety of the pipeline means workers may rotate through schedules that cover every minute of the day and every day of the year. In addition to round-the-clock shift scheduling, other fatigue risk factors existed, such as physically demanding work in severe outdoor conditions and long nighttime hours in winter. Alyeska maintains a strong safety culture and knew that fatigue risk management was a risk they needed to maintain focus on.

Alyeska’s program started with developing policies that aligned with existing risk mitigation and hours-of-work policies. Integration into health and wellness initiatives followed, including medical screening, sleep questionnaires and diet counseling for employees and their families. Employee education, feedback and program assessment happen on a continuing basis, so the program has become part of the company culture. Management and employees work in partnership to reduce the effects of fatigue on both workplace and personal life.

Implementation of a fatigue risk management system can happen in stages, allowing the program to adapt to each organization’s needs. The NSC report Managing Fatigue: Developing an Effective Fatigue Risk Management System guides employers through the process of developing and implementing programs that address scheduling practices that could reduce fatigue, optimize environmental factors such as lighting and temperature, and increase safety and productivity.

In our 24/7 world, fatigue is treated as a badge of honor. Instead, we should embrace the knowledge that proper rest allows people to be safe, alert and productive at work, and enjoy their family, friends and social lives safely off the job.

Emily Whitcomb

Emily Whitcomb is director innovation at the National Safety Council.

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