Sometimes you read stupid stuff and you just want to go back to bed and sleep, sleep, sleep.
And speaking of sleep, Business Insurance has an article this week about the “one of the most frequently overlooked but critical questions to answer in employer safety programs.” The question: how much sleep are employees getting? The problem: serious safety problems caused by worker fatigue.
And fatigue is a serious problem, especially for those in safety-critical jobs, according to the National Safety Council (NSC) which found that 43% of 2,000 workers surveyed reported not getting enough sleep every day. Experts say that not getting enough sleep is the same as being drunk.
OK, so far so good. Fatigue is bad for safety. On that there is general agreement.
But why are workers so fatigued? The NSC points to nine risk factors, and I’ll list them all:
- Shift work
- High-risk hours
- Demanding jobs
- Long shifts
- Long weeks
- Sleep loss
- No rest breaks
- Quick shift returns
- Long commute
I would add a number 10, although that may be included in number 3 or 5: Having more than one job (usually due to low pay.)
Now most of those — I’d say all except maybe number 6 (possibly due to medical problems like sleep apnea) are all related to working conditions imposed by management.
One could argue that number 9 is a matter of worker choice: a worker may choose to live in a nicer area in return for a longer commute. But the fact is that many workers don’t have a choice about how far they commute; they can’t afford to live near work, and the lack of adequate public transportation makes it worse. This Washington Post article about the deteriorating safety net in the South, accompanied by transportation difficulties for low income workers, has haunted me for years:
In the metropolitan areas of the Deep South, government policies and rising real estate prices have pushed the poor out of urban centers and farther from jobs. Low-income people have, in turn, grown more reliant on public transit networks that are among the weakest of quality in the country.
So, given that almost every cause of sleep deprivation cited by the National Safety Council is beyond the control of workers, what is the solution recommended in the article by safety expert Mike Harnett? “Train employees on the importance of sleep and to limit longer shifts.”
Really? Tell me a single one of those nine factors that can be resolved with more employee training. And how does training employers result in shorter shifts? (Harnett is Vice President of Six Safety Systems, by the way, which helpfully offers fatigue management training, and “Fatigue Detection Technology … to detect and measure the operator’s eye movements. The readings are immediately analyzed to determine levels of fatigue and distraction.”)
She also recommends a “questionnaire for workers on sleep habits.” OK, maybe that gets to number 6, but none of the others have anything to do with sleep “habits.”
The bottom line is that questionnaires, more training and “fatigue detection technology” are just a subtle way of blaming workers for the sleep deprivation problem that — from the risk factors listed by the NSC — are mostly the responsibility of management to change.
So what have we learned?
First, it sounds more like employers need the questionnaires and training, not workers.
And second, journalists would be better off looking for “experts” who aren’t also peddling their wares.