Columbus, Ohio — If you're tired and you're reading this article, don't blame the author; everyone feels fatigue at some parts of the day, according to an expert on the subject.
Long-haul truckers face it, as do the mining industry and railroad engineers. And in manufacturing, it can be a big safety risk.
"Fatigue risk is ever-present and if affects everyone, no matter who you are, where you work, what business you're in. But it can be managed. It can actually be predicted," said Lori Guasta, vice president of organizational behavior and training at Predictive Safety SRP Inc.
Guasta talked about the fatigue risk at the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors' Environmental Health and Safety Summit. She spoke right after lunch on July 18 at the summit — a sleepy time slot that she picked on purpose.
Fatigue can lead to unsafe employees. It also hurts productivity. But being too tired has lots of causes. Guasta said one in three adults do not get enough sleep, and research shows that people who get less than five hours a night are three times more likely to experience a workplace accident. Stress at home and work contribute.
Fatigue experts estimate it is the primary cause of 30 percent of all industrial accidents, she said. For 24/7 operations involving shiftwork and off-shift callouts, fatigue and what Guasta called "impaired alertness" could be a major contributor in as high as 60 percent of all accidents.
"I promise you that you — and folks that you are responsible for at work — experience the negative effects of fatigue. It's just human nature or science," she said.
But Guasta said you can manage fatigue by measuring it and predicting it throughout a shift. That's important, she said, because "unfortunately, there's no standard definition at a company until point of failure."
Predictive Safety SRP, based in Centennial, Colo., has developed Prism, a predictive software that uses patented algorithms tied in with circadian science, to figure real-time levels of fatigue and changes in the level of alertness. The company also offers an AlertMeter, downloaded to a smartphone or touch-screen table. A series of patterns and shapes appears and the user has to pick which one is different from the others.
The tools can figure a person's fatigue symptoms, showing if they are fit for duty at the start of a shift, and then later that same shift — say, in one or two hours — a supervisor gets an alert that the employee is reaching an increased level of fatigue. The person could take a break, stretch, drink water and take other actions to wake back up.
"Fatigue risk can be prevented and effectively managed," Guasta said.