The construction industry is one of the most dangerous fields for workers, and one with the highest level of worker fatalities. Construction work is physically and mentally demanding, and without periods of adequate rest, workers can suffer fatigue, which can be especially risky in such a dangerous environment.
For each hour of physical exertion without appropriate periods of rest, the effects of fatigue begin to manifest, causing decreased alertness, slower reaction times, inability to concentrate, loss of dexterity, and impaired motion. On a construction site, this can be a recipe for disaster leading to serious accidents and injuries.
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), 75 percent of construction workers report being tired at work, often due to rotating shift work, long shifts, and sleep loss. Many construction workers report feeling fatigued “to the point they had safety concerns” following three to four consecutive days of 10-hour work shifts.
What Is Fatigue?
Fatigue is mental or physical exhaustion that occurs when the body is low on energy due to exertion. Fatigue can result from many other factors as well, including sleep disruption, emotional stress, chronic health conditions, and poor diet.
Fatigue is reported to be a contributing factor in one-third of all occupation injuries as it causes lack of focus and concentration, sluggish memory, slows reaction times, and the ability to make decisions. Multiple studies have demonstrated that the performance effects of fatigue parallel those of alcohol impairment. OSHA reports that 12-hour work shifts pose a 37 percent increase in the risk of injury.
A study by the NSC concluded that a staggering 100 percent of all construction workers experience at least one risk factor due to fatigue while working. The work demands inherent in the construction industry make the field more susceptible to fatigue, including:
- Constant communication regarding complex tasks
- Irregular and rotating shiftwork, including early morning or nighttime shifts
- Less than 12 hours of recovery time between work shifts or days
- Physically demanding labor and repetitive tasks
- Shifts consisting of 10 or more hours per day
- Working 50 or more hours per week
Additionally, long commutes, frequently changing schedules, and complications requiring additional extended on-the-job hours to fix before quitting further contribute to worker fatigue.
The study further revealed that perceptions regarding fatigue differ between management and workers. Nearly 98 percent of construction employers consider fatigue a safety issue compared to only 75 percent of workers. The NSC reports the disparity is likely due to the workers’ belief that fatigue is “just part of the job,” due to the physical demands and long hours.
What Are Some Common Causes of Fatigue?
In the construction industry, nearly every aspect of the work can result in workers experiencing fatigue at some point. Some of the more common causes include:
- Inadequate breaks: Fatigue is a sign that your body needs a break to rest and recover, even briefly. Workers who push through fatigue either by choice or by force from supervisors, run the risk of having or causing serious injury to themselves and coworkers.
- Overtime: As work hours increase so does the risk of fatigue-related accidents. Repeated days of working extended hours increases fatigue and stress that, over time, can result in serious or chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, musculoskeletal disorders, digestive problems, depression, anxiety, and diabetes.
- Night shifts: Evening and overnight shifts require your body to be awake during times that it is prewired to be sleeping, known as circadian rhythm. Disruptions to the rhythm’s rest schedule reduce the body’s ability to fully recover before the next exertion, making workers fatigued and at a much higher risk of accident and injury.
- Lack of training: Employers are required to implement safety measures and train all employees on procedures and how to identify potential hazards. In the construction field, employers should include training workers on how to identify signs of fatigue and drowsiness, the importance of adhering to mandatory shift breaks, and best practices to reduce mental and physical fatigue.
In the construction industry, weather is also a significant contributing factor in worker fatigue. Exertion in hot temperatures causes mental and physical fatigue more rapidly, leading to reduced performance and slower reaction times. Coupled with dehydration, worker fatigue during hot weather can drastically increase the risk of accidents and serious injuries.
Lack of sleep is another significant contributor in worker fatigue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three Americans does not regularly receive the recommended seven hours of continuous sleep each night. While we sleep, the body restores energy and repairs damaged muscles and tissue, a critical element in preventing fatigue.
What Are Some Steps to Prevent Worker Fatigue?
The first step in addressing worker fatigue is education – training the work force to recognize the dangers of fatigue and how to spot when a coworker may need a break to avoid an accident. While fatigue cannot be completely eliminated in the construction industry, there are steps both the employer and the worker can implement to help lessen its effects, such as:
- Include fatigue management in the planning stages of each job
- Develop work schedules that allow sufficient resting periods by:
- Shorter schedules during night shift
- Require a minimum number of rest hours for workers after 10 or more hour shifts before reporting to work the following day
- Place limits on the number of consecutive hours of night shift an employee can work
- Establish procedures for monitoring and managing fatigue risks
- Provide a method that workers can use to anonymously report work schedule problems and concerns
- Include fatigue as an option in root cause investigations
- Be responsible during time off and allow for rest and recovery before returning to work
- Protect your sleep time by not taking extra work that reduces resting and sleeping time; maintaining a regular sleep schedule with at least seven consecutive hours sleep; allowing an unchanging four-hour “anchor” sleeping time and take supplemental naps as necessary; arranging your sleeping area to better accommodate sleep and change household routines, if necessary, especially during periods of night shift work; and avoiding alcohol and caffeine before sleeping.
- Monitoring yourself and coworkers for the early signs of fatigue, such as eye rubbing, frequent blinking, staring blankly, or fidgeting and restlessness.
Wilmington Construction Accident Lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow Represent Workers Injured in Accidents at Construction Sites
Long hours coupled with physical labor can deplete construction worker’s energy, reaction times, decision making abilities and more, increasing the risk of accident and injuries significantly. If you have been injured in a work site accident, our Wilmington construction accident lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow have extensive experience representing construction workers. Call us at (302) 427-9500 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients in Middletown, Dover, Milford, Lewes, Rehoboth, Elsmere, and Seaford.