Fatigue Management: Recognizing Fatigue

What you need to know about recognizing fatigue.

As we near the end of daylight savings time, we usually expect that the time change will throw off our sleep patterns. While fatigue is a risk all year long, it is well documented that time changes increase our risk of fatigue related accidents. While the change back to standard time is less severe than the change to Daylight Savings Time in the spring, it still throws off sleep cycles which can cause an increased risk of fatigue and fatigue related accidents.

What is fatigue?

Just as food and water are necessary for our survival, sleep is also a necessary function for our bodies. Fatigue happens when our bodies don’t get the required amount of sleep in order for the brain to fully recharge. This can be caused by failing to get the full 7-9 hours of recommended sleep per night, staying awake for long periods of time, or because of medical issues that interfere with quality of sleep.

When sleep is missed, it creates a sleep deficit for our bodies and the larger the sleep deficit is the more difficult it is for our bodies to function at peak performance. In 1996, the National Transportation Safety Board identified fatigue as major health issue. Fatigue contributes to an increase in mistakes and accidents on the job. Fatigue also can affect mood and ability to communicate effectively. In fact, fatigue can mimic the effects of alcohol. For a person who has been awake for 24 hours, their impaired judgement is equivalent to having a blood alcohol content above the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle. For those working shifts longer than 8 hours, the fatigue risk goes up the longer that person is on the clock.

Recognizing Fatigue

How to recognize fatigue.

Many signs of fatigue can be easily recognized while others are more subtle. It is important to be able to recognize the signs of fatigue so that you can take steps in ensuring you maintain a safe work environment.

Fatigue often presents in a physical manner. Extreme drowsiness, nodding off, and microsleeps are all symptoms of fatigue. Fatigue can slow reaction time making one less likely to respond to critical situations in an appropriate manner. Beyond immediate effects, regularly missing sleep can contribute to long term health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Fatigue can also affect a person's mental well being. Signs such as an increased difficulty focusing, increased mistakes, irritability, difficulty thinking clearly can all be indications of fatigue. Fatigue can make anticipating reactions or remembering task or information more difficult.

While it can be easy to recognize symptoms of fatigue when they first start, the more severely fatigued someone becomes the more difficult it is for them to realize that they are suffering from fatigue related symptoms that may interfere with their own safety or the safety of others. It is important to look out for these signs and symptoms in ourselves, as well as those around us, so that we can create a safer and more rested environment.

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