Fatigue - The Foe You Don't Want to Know at Work
Staying awake for 21 hours straight affects the human body almost exactly like a blood alcohol level of 0.1%, which exceeds Canada's legal limit for drivers. Sleep researchers say drowsy drivers may cause as many automobile crashes as impaired drivers.
Now let's translate that to the workplace where someone might have to make important decisions, handle dangerous chemicals, operate heavy equipment or use a sharp knife. It's not hard to realize that work and fatigue don't mix.
Fatigue is the state of feeling very tired, weary or sleepy because of too little or inadequate sleep, prolonged mental or physical work, or extended periods of stress or anxiety. It varies, but on average we need at least 7.5 to 8.5 hours everyday. While it's always possible to reverse a short-lived or "acute" state of fatigue by catching up on sleep and rest, chronic fatigue may require a doctor's intervention.
Besides tiredness and drowsiness, other telltale symptoms of fatigue include irritability, depression, giddiness, loss of appetite, digestive problems, and an increased susceptibility to illness.
A recipe for shoddy, unsafe work
- hand-eye coordination,
- visual perception,
- communication skills,
- performance, and
- ability to make decisions, do complex planning, and handle stress.
It slows reaction time, and contributes to loss of memory and ability to recall details, while increasing the tendency to take risks. Fatigued workers tend to become moody, have higher absenteeism and turnover rates, incur more medical costs and have a greater tendency to get hurt on the job. They also have a hard time staying awake and, to top it all off, are often too drowsy to realize they have dozed off or are not functioning well.
Does fatigue affect workers' safety? Science has yet to clearly support the link between fatigue and workplace accidents, however, Alberta Human Resources and Employment reports that most accidents happen when people are more likely to want sleep, between midnight and 6 a.m., and between 1 and 3 p.m.
Fatigue from work can be the result of long hours of mental or physical work, work shifts that are too close together without sufficient breaks, inadequate rest, stress, or a combination of these factors. Some people are more prone to fatigue if they live an unhealthy lifestyle or have ongoing problems and stress in the workplace.
Shift work, a necessary part of the working world, is another significant culprit. The human body is designed to sleep at night and cannot function at full capacity when its natural patterns are interrupted. Waking up, eating, and sleeping at unnatural hours upset our internal "circadian" clocks, which is why shift workers tend to be a little less awake on the job and a little less rested after sleeping. Studies have shown that one shift worker in five dozes off during a shift.
Other contributors to fatigue are poor workplace conditions (such as lonely or boring jobs), job dissatisfaction, heavy workloads, constant change and uncertainty, and burnout from overwork.
What employers can do
The National Institute for Working Life estimates that sleep-deprived workers cost $350 billion US per year worldwide. It is in the employer's best interest to:
- Make sure the work environment doesn't promote fatigue. Try to avoid dim lighting, toasty temperatures and reduce noise.
- Vary job tasks to eliminate repetition or long stints of boring, monotonous work.
- Train workers on the importance of getting enough rest and how to achieve work-life balance.
- Introduce shorter shifts, and rotate shifts in the direction of the sun (morning, afternoon, night, in that order).
There is probably much more that employers can do. The suggestions above are by no means a comprehensive list, but rather just a few examples of strategies an employer may want to use.
Workers, too, can fight fatigue
Here's what you can do to minimize the effects of fatigue:
- Avoid driving if you are tired, especially in inclement weather where vision is impaired.
- Avoid excessive noise.
- Eat a healthy diet that promotes longer-lasting energy. Complex carbohydrates (starch) are preferable to simple carbohydrates (sugar). Avoid fatty foods and junk food.
- Adopt a steady exercise routine that includes cardiovascular, muscle strengthening and flexibility workouts.
- Make every effort to get at least 7.5 - 8.5 hours of sleep per night.
- Stay positive. Make a conscious effort not to be overwhelmed by negative circumstances.
If you're awake now and want to read more about fatigue, check out these links:
How sleep affects safety (and more) - Canada Safety Council
Fatigue In The Workplace Is Common And Costly - Medical News
Fatigue, Extended Work Hours and Safety in the Workplace - Alberta Human Resources and Employment
Lifesaving tips for commercial fishermen
The drowning deaths of two Canadian fishermen - from opposite coasts, could have been prevented. Here's what happened:
A hazard alert bulletin from WorkSafe BC reports that a salmon fisherman accidentally fell into the water and couldn't get back in the boat, because it had no guardrails or lifeline. The water had a 1 to 2 foot chop and the man, who wore no lifejacket or personal flotation device, was working alone. Someone discovered his boat, adrift without anyone on board. Later the fisherman's body found, floating at sea.
Another drowning occurred in Nova Scotia on the first day of the 2007 spring fishing season. A lobster fisher, who was not wearing a personal flotation device, became entangled in the trip rope lines on deck and was pulled overboard. In a hazard alert bulletin, the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour warns that the common practice of loading as many pots as possible onto lobster fishing boats (especially on opening day) can leave very little room for crew members to move freely on deck.
While a lone vessel at sea might seem quite apart from other workplaces, it is subject to similar health and safety regulations. Generally, employers of fishing operations have the same duty as other employers to ensure a safe work environment, which includes proper safety equipment, as well as instruction and training, and making sure workers follow safe work practices and avoid exposure to work-related hazards. More specifically, where a person is exposed to the risk of drowning, an employer must provide and ensure the use of a personal flotation device that meets the standards specified in occupational health and safety legislation, or an alternative measure that provides equivalent protection from drowning.
Observing these safety practices, as recommended by the Nova Scotia and BC governments, could save lives:
- When working on deck, allow space to move freely. Eliminate or reduce as many risks as possible.
- Crew members must be protected from falling overboard by means of grabrails, siderails, handrails, guardrails or personal fall protection equipment. Those working aloft or on deck during adverse weather conditions must tie off to a lifeline to prevent falling.
- The BC regulation requires "a personal flotation device (PFD) or lifejacket with sufficient buoyancy to keep the worker's head above water," except in very shallow water or where other safety measures protect workers from the risk of drowning. The lack of a PFD, together with low water temperatures, greatly increases the risk of drowning when a person falls overboard.
A little preparation is especially worthwhile with an occupational hazard as mighty as an ocean. The very best catch is a fisherman who returns safely to shore.
Further reading on safety in fishing and aquaculture:
"Fish Safe" - Nova Scotia Fisheries sector council
A report on the sinking of the lobster boat "Evan Richard" - Transportation Safety Board of Canada
MSDS - A Safe Read
No one is born a chemist or toxicologist, and most people won't ever become experts in those fields, yet a great many are required to handle and store chemical products in their day-to-day jobs. Knowing and following the proper procedures, anyone can work safely with chemicals.
In Canada, every material that is controlled by WHMIS ("Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System") must be labelled and have an accompanying Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that is specific to the product or material (both the product name and supplier on the MSDS must match the material in use).
An MSDS is a document, prepared by the chemical manufacturer or supplier, that contains information on the potential hazards (health, fire and reactivity) of the product. The MSDS also describes how to safely use, store and handle the product and what to do in an emergency. It tells how to recognize symptoms of exposure and what first aid and other procedures might be necessary.
MSDSs come from many sources and may not all look the same, but they must include these nine (9) categories of information as mandated by the Government of Canada's Controlled Products Regulations:
- Product Information e.g. product identifier (name), manufacturer and supplier's names, addresses, and emergency phone numbers
- Hazardous Ingredients
- Physical Data e.g. physical state, odour and boiling point
- Fire or Explosion Hazard Data
- Reactivity Data e.g. conditions under which the product is chemically unstable and the names of other substances the product is incompatible with
- Toxicological Properties (health effects)
- Preventive Measures e.g. personal protective equipment and engineering controls
- First Aid Measures
- Preparation Information e.g. who prepared the MSDS and the date of preparation
The law doesn't expect you to know everything about all chemicals, but you must get to know the hazards, control measures and emergency procedures for each chemical product you work with. Familiarize yourself with this information from the MSDS before you start to use the product. In addition, your employer should supplement the MSDS information with site-specific information and training regarding first aid measures, hazard controls (e.g. required ventilation, gloves) and what to do in case of an emergency (e.g. spill or leak).
The Controlled Products Regulations specify that an MSDS for a controlled product must be no more than three years old. It's up to the supplier to update the product label and MSDS. Employers must ensure that every controlled product entering the workplace is accompanied by an up-to-date MSDS. The company's MSDS collection must be widely accessible to workers who may be exposed to the controlled products, and to the health and safety committee or representative. They can be stored in a binder, or digitally on a computer network, just as long as everyone in the workplace has easy access to them at all times.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) offers more information, support and tools on how to use MSDSs and how to comply with the Controlled Products Regulations:
Pushing, Pulling, Lifting and Lowering
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are a major pain - in the muscles, tendons or nerves in the lower back, shoulders, neck, elbows, wrists or hands. In fact, MSDs are the number one type of work-related lost-time claim reported to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) in Ontario. MSDs cause suffering for thousands of workers every year, and manual materials handling is a large contributor.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) and the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD) have teamed up to co-host "Pushing, Pulling, Lifting, and Lowering: A workshop on manual materials handling in the workplace" to discuss manual materials handling from a variety of perspectives. The 1-day conference will take place March 4, 2008 in Mississauga, Ontario.
The workshop features a keynote presentation by Dr. Tom Waters, certified professional ergonomist and Senior Safety Engineer at NIOSH, renowned internationally for his work on the revised NIOSH lifting equation - the most commonly used tool to measure if workers are exerting too much effort to lift or lower.
An array of experts in the field will also speak from their perspectives. You'll hear from a researcher, ergonomic consultant, injured worker, disability management consultant, labour and management representatives, and a policy analyst with respect to what the province of Ontario is doing about preventing MSDs. You'll also have the opportunity to engage in workshops where you can discuss how manual materials handling issues apply to your own workplace.
If you are unable to travel to the workshop, you can still participate by registering for CCOHS' live webcast. You'll hear all the presentations, plus have the opportunity to ask questions and submit comments directly to the speakers, from the comfort of your computer or meeting room.
Health and Safety Committees
New e-course tailored to the Canadian federal jurisdiction
Unlike the United States, where the entire country is governed by the same occupational health and safety laws, Canada has occupational health and safety laws and regulations that vary by jurisdiction. Although these laws are founded on the same principle - that every worker has a right to a safe work environment - each jurisdiction has its nuances.
Health and Safety Committees are an important area of occupational health and safety legislation. The latest e-course from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) focuses on health and safety committees and is geared specifically to workplaces in the Federal Jurisdiction.
Health and Safety Committees in the Canadian Federal Jurisdiction is an e-course designed for these and other federally regulated workplaces:
- Federal government departments, agencies and Crown corporations;
- Chartered banks;
- Television and radio stations;
- Inter-provincial communications and telephone companies;
- Buses and railways that travel between provinces;
- First Nations; and
- Other federally regulated industries, including certain mining operations.
The main activities of these businesses include railways, road transport, tunnels, bridges, telephone, radio and television broadcasting, pipelines, grain elevators, uranium mining and processing, and other products and services that don't fall under provincial or territorial jurisdiction.
Compliance training doesn't have to be difficult
Health and Safety Committees allow employers, workers and supervisors to get actively involved in controlling or eliminating workplace hazards. By becoming familiar with their rights and responsibilities, everyone in the workplace can bring the "internal responsibility system" into practice.
Health and Safety Committees in the Canadian Federal Jurisdiction counts as part of the training required under the Canada Labour Code, Part II. It is suitable for members of health and safety and policy committees, as well as health and safety representatives, managers, and human resources personnel.
In just 40 to 60 minutes at the computer, participants will learn how to establish a new committee, roles of the committee, how it is structured, how to make it function effectively, and how to resolve issues. The e-course also gives a good overview of workplace inspections, investigations, and the committee's role when an employee exercises his or her right to refuse dangerous work.
Participants can access the course online and learn at their own pace, in their own environment. As with all CCOHS e-courses, subject specialists are available to answer any questions. Quizzes throughout help track progress, and every participant who passes the exam receives a certificate of completion.
The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2009, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety