March 19, 2019 / Mark Ames

Waking Up to the Zombie Apocalypse

Are we living through a zombie apocalypse? Look closely, for you or your fellow workers may be among the more than one-third of U.S. workers who get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night, and may be only partially awake at work. Far from an amusing late-night movie, a lack of rest has serious consequences for worker health and safety. In truly eye-opening findings, OSHA reports that workplace injury rates are 18 percent higher during evening shifts, and 30 percent higher during night shifts, compared to day shifts. The economic implications are no less alarming. It is estimated that fatigue-related lost productivity costs employers $136.4 billion annually.

Despite the relationship between workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatigue, policymakers have been generally slow to act on this problem. To help address this situation, AIHA’s 2019 – 2020 Public Policy Agenda contains several proposals on worker fatigue (PDF). Below is the list of actions we recommend. As you read them, please keep in mind that they are intended to serve as conversation-starters. You and others may have additional solutions that you feel are appropriate remedies. We do not mean to exclude other options by not listing them, and instead invite your feedback, either in the comments section below or by posting a message on Catalyst. Here’s the list:

  • Encourage NIOSH’s Total Worker Health® program to maintain a focus on worker fatigue.
  • Encourage policymakers to incentivize employer development, adoption, and use of comprehensive fatigue risk management systems.
  • Support the adoption and implementation of ANSI/API RP 755, Fatigue Risk Management Systems for Personnel in the Refining and Petrochemical Industries.
  • Encourage staffing agencies to help ensure that temporary workers have sufficient rest time between shifts at the same or multiple jobs.
  • Support requirements for employers to provide paid time off and paid sick time off for their employees.

Because our society prides itself on our industriousness and hard work, any attempt to reduce workplace fatigue would do well to avoid any appearance of contradicting this core ethos. Rather, we may improve our chances of success by transforming our conception of “rest” into a vehicle for enhanced productivity, achieving our goals faster, and improving overall well-being. Here, we pick up echoes of Total Worker Health, which leads to a discussion for another day.

Returning to our prior scene, zombies are still among us, but now we have new tools to save them, and in so doing lift our society up to meet a new day of prosperity where people are more alert at work and suffer fewer injuries and illnesses. Together, we can make that vision a reality. You can help by committing to having one conversation with your colleagues, family, friends, or community members about the importance of getting enough rest. Let us know how your conversations go in the comments section below or on Catalyst.

Mark Ames

Mark Ames is AIHA’s director of Government Relations.


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