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The impact of fatigue on workplace safety

You may not realize that your body goes through 24-hour cycles that manage its rhythm, and interfering with these cycles affects everything from your body temperature, digestion and your capacity to face daily challenges. The lack of sleep jeopardizes your body's ability to renew energy. History shows that most major industrial accidents resulted from fatigue -- including the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

If you are in a job that requires you to work shifts, your body will have to adjust to intermittent changes of schedule that interfere with the natural rhythms of your body. The effort of having to adapt to those changes causes body fatigue that can have devastating consequences.

What is fatigue?

Although putting a value to loss of productivity due to fatigue is difficult, it is most likely that your performance, if you are sleepy, will not measure up to your well-rested colleagues. Fatigue also contributes to higher levels of absenteeism and doctors' bills. The following are some examples of the toll fatigue takes in the workplace:

  • Decision-making -- Tired workers struggle to cope with intelligent decision-making and often cannot come up with plans to perform complex tasks.
  • Attention span -- Fatigue shrinks your attention span and vigilance, which puts you in danger of missing potentially hazardous situations. This may cause you to take on risks that you would likely avoid if you are well-rested.
  • Reaction time -- If you are fatigued, your reaction time will be slower, putting you in harm's way when conditions are dangerous.
  • Physical signs of fatigue -- Along with the overwhelming feeling of sleepiness, you may experience depression, irritability, muscle pain, headache and loss of appetite.
  • Micro-sleeps -- Without even realizing it, you might experience brief moments of micro-sleep in which you will doze off and only realize it as you become fully conscious again. Once you reach this stage of fatigue, your life could be in danger -- particularly if your job involves operating a dangerous machine or driving a vehicle.

Causes and types of fatigue

Apart from the lack of sleep, fatigue can also result from too much physical or mental work. Tasks that present high amounts of stress or anxiety can cause fatigue, but also jobs that involve repetitive tasks could lead to serious on-the-job injuries.

Doctors classify fatigue as either acute or chronic. When you go through one night of little or no sleep during which time you worked hard, your fatigue will be acute, but the symptoms should disappear after one good night's sleep. However, chronic fatigue is typically caused by a medical condition and not remedied by sleep. It can make you more susceptible to illness, including high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.

Your rights upon injury

Regardless of whether your injury resulted from fatigue or another cause, you are entitled to workers' compensation insurance benefits. Some circumstances are difficult to prove to be work-related, but an experienced New York workers' compensation attorney can help you with filing your claim and navigating an appeal if your benefits claim is rejected.

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