Sleep Deprivation in the Workplace
by Darin Douglas, CEO, Lowe Roofing, Inc., & president, Merge 3 Technology, Inc.
(Editor’s Note: Darin Douglas began roofing in 1997 after graduating from Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota. Lowe Roofing, Inc., is a family-owned roofing company that has been in operation since 1975 in South Dakota and Wyoming. Merge 3 Technology, Inc., helps contractors track and control their safety processes and efforts on a daily basis. Douglas also served on the WSRCA Board of Directors for nine years and was the chair of the Safety and Health Committee and Low-Slope Committee.)
Roofing workers are exposed to safety and health hazards daily, including falls, chemicals, fires, and equipment injuries. If a worker is overly tired while working around these hazards, they are at a heightened risk of injury. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation increases the odds of injury up to 70%. The effects of fatigue are much like having too much alcohol, which results in impaired judgment and hinders performance.
Impaired motor skills are one of the many ways sleep deprivation creates unsafe working conditions. Much like someone who has had too much to drink, sleep fatigue will lead to poor hand-eye coordination, unsure depth perception, and poor balance. Falls are a significant problem in the roofing industry and lead to roughly 30% of all construction fatalities. Proper sleep and rest play a vital role in avoiding these fatal accidents.
Each year the United States incurs a loss of $136 billion in productivity as a result of sleep deprivation. Costs are associated with reduced efficiency, serious injury, and high workers’ compensation costs, as well as lost time for illnesses related to fatigue. Over the course of a year, this can equal days and weeks’ worth of inefficient or lost time.
Make sure you are in tune with your body and are looking out for the signs of sleep fatigue. Pay attention not only to yourself, but also to your family members and coworkers. The first warning signs may be in physical appearance, such as weight loss or gain, pale complexion, and dark circles under the eyes. When workers are unhealthy, they are more likely to take days off, make mistakes, experience injury, and become inefficient. Furthermore, poor sleep habits can lead to obesity, heart disease, stomach, and digestive problems.
Sleep deprivation can also lead to workers showing up for work sluggish and weary, which leads to bad decision-making and puts everyone on the project at risk. Be on the lookout for warning signs like forgetfulness, aloofness, mood swings, emotional outbursts, depression, or paranoia. Employers have a responsibility to watch for sleep fatigue symptoms in their workers, as they are not only helping to protect that employee, but also everyone they work with. Extensive sleep fatigue can also lead to anxiety and depression, as it affects brain function.
Fighting sleep fatigue takes time, a plan, and consistent effort. Start by setting a schedule and sticking to it. Set a specific bedtime and do not deviate from it. This will program your body to react at the right times. Limit your naps and avoid caffeine after lunchtime to make sure you are tired at bedtime. Limiting your electronic device usage after a specific time is also vital for proper sleep. Your brain needs time to power down and relax.
There are multiple ways that workers can take control of their health and safety in the workplace and at home, and getting a proper night’s rest is a great way to start. Make sure you take the time to get proper rest, as it affects not only you, but everyone in your life. For more severe cases, it may be beneficial to see a healthcare professional about possible sleep disorders, such as sleepwalking, sleep apnea, and others. Sleep disorders can lead to long-term health conditions and affect one’s ability to work. Take care of yourself and help keep your jobsite safe by getting some rest.