Fatigue Management for Material Handling Staff
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, most workplace accidents occur between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. or, for late-shift workers, midnight to 6:00 a.m. Those are also the hours during which the typical human body most craves sleep.
This is just one example of the hazards associated with fatigue on the job. When that job involves heavy material handling equipment, it is vital that every employer take steps to address worker fatigue across every shift.
But what exactly is fatigue? In this context, it’s more than simple tiredness (although that feeling is an important component of the condition). “Fatigue” refers to a generally impaired condition associated with prolonged periods of exertion, both physical and mental.
Workplace fatigue degrades the worker’s ability to make decisions, communicate, and maintain productivity. It makes accidents more likely. Researchers estimate the yearly cost of fatigue to U.S. businesses as $18 billion.
The good news is that researchers have also uncovered some strategies to help cut down on fatigue among workers. Here are a few that could be especially helpful for workers in material handling applications:
- Schedule shifts to allow workers plenty of time for sleep. This can be difficult during the busy season, but limiting overtime to ensure that workers have time to get the requisite 8 hours of sleep before every shift can help reduce sleepiness and sleep deficits. If you run 12-hour shifts, try to give workers 24 hours off between shifts.
- Allow naps during night shifts. Again, this could lead to scheduling challenges, but studies show that even a 30-minute nap can improve alertness. Consider setting up cots in a break area and allowing night workers to nap during breaks.
- Limit repetitive, monotonous tasks by cycling workers through different jobs. Repeating the same rote task over and over can increase fatigue. Replacing workers on repetitive tasks several times throughout a shift can help to cut down on the boredom factor. Additionally, material handling equipment can reduce the physical burden on workers; Tilt Tables can reduce the stress of repeatedly bending and reaching, and Bin Dumpers allow workers to empty bins without ergonomic risks.
- Move workers to low-risk tasks when they become fatigued. As noted, most workplace accidents occur between midnight and 6 a.m., and again in the post-lunch period between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. Additionally, workers might feel higher fatigue toward the end of their shifts. Wherever possible, keep staff on lower-risk jobs during these times, or whenever they report feelings of fatigue.
Reducing fatigue among material handling staff will create a safer, more productive workforce. While it may seem counterintuitive to invest in anti-fatigue practices, remember the $18-billion price U.S. businesses are paying by working with exhausted staff. Fatigue management is a sound investment from every perspective.
“Fatigue and Work Infographic.” CCOHS. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, n.d. JPG. 26 Jun. 2019.
Sadeghniiat-Haghighi, Khosro and Zohreh Yazdi. “Fatigue management in the workplace.” NLM. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, Jan. 2015. Web. 26 Jun. 2019.