Work Not for the Weary

Getting proper rest is an important factor in preventing workplace accidents.

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It’s happened to most of us: You pull into the driveway after a long day and don’t remember the last 15 minutes of your commute. Did you run that stop sign down the block? It’s a bit of a scary feeling.

“The quality and quantity of sleep directly impacts performance components including concentration, information processing, judgment, reaction time and teamwork,” according to Nancy Rothstein, author of “Optimizing Sleep for an Optimal Workforce in the Oil, Gas and Mining Industries.” While Rothstein wasn’t writing specifically for the sewer and drain cleaning industry, the statement still applies.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, says drowsy driving kills about 1,550 people every year. Various studies in France, Australia and elsewhere have found that driving sleepy is just as dangerous as driving drunk. Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that two hours of continuous nighttime driving was comparable to driving with a blood alcohol concentration 0.05 percent; three hours was equal to driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent (legal intoxication); 4 1/2 hours was equal to a BAC of 0.10.

Harvard Medical School analysis of data from the America Insomnia Survey, meanwhile, pegs the cost of accidents and errors caused by lack of sleep at $31 billion a year, estimating that seven percent of workplace accidents and errors were attributed to tired workers.

Rothstein, known as the Sleep Ambassador (, presents many other research findings in her white paper about how sleep impacts various parts of a worker’s life such as performance, productivity, safety and accidents, operating vehicles or machines, and overall health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure.

While OSHA has no regulations concerning sleepy workers, it has issued guidance concerning extended or unusual work shifts, saying they “may be more stressful physically, mentally and emotionally” and can lead to an increased risk of operator error, injuries and accidents.

Among OSHA’s recommendations:

  • Add additional break periods and meals when shifts are extended past normal work periods.
  • Tasks that require heavy physical labor or intense concentration should be performed at the beginning of the shift if possible.
  • Learn to recognize signs and symptoms and monitor for fatigue. Any employee showing such signs should be evaluated and possibly directed to seek rest.
  • Allow time for adequate rest and recovery. Extended shifts should not be maintained for more than a few days, especially if they require heavy physical or mental exertion.
  • Staff adequately to enable workers to take breaks, eat meals, relax and sleep.
  • If at remote sites, ensure, as far as possible, that there is a quiet, secluded area designated for rest and recuperation.
  • Plan for regular and frequent breaks throughout the shift. In addition to formal breaks such as lunch or dinner, encourage the use of micro breaks to change positions, move about and shift concentration.

For workers in every industry, getting adequate sleep every night can reduce the risk of injury or mistakes. Maybe our kindergarten teachers were right. The solution just might be a good nap every day!


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