What if there was a way to predict when an employee becomes too exhausted to safely perform a task?
Although some boastful types might suggest they give 110% on the job all day every day, we all know that’s just not possible. Nobody is capable of performing at peak efficiency at all hours of the day, and yet too often the expectations of senior management are that every employee—and especially those whose performance is measured in terms of productivity goals—start the day at the top of their game and then sustain that level until their shift ends. But that mentality of constant go-go-go is actually reducing a company’s productivity, not enhancing it.
During the federal government shutdown (which is currently on hold, but could be reinstated depending on the whims of our politicians), some of the essential federal employees who continued to work despite not getting paid had to seek out part-time jobs just to keep the money coming in until they received their backpay. That includes TSA screeners and agents at the airports whose job it is to ensure the safety of our air transportation—definitely not the kind of high-stress situation where you’d want overworked and unpaid employees.
“Fatigue from overwork, with limited opportunities for rest and recovery, can lead to dangerous workplace injuries, illnesses and even fatalities,” cautions Jessica Martinez, co-director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH).
While the government shutdown has exacerbated the situation, in fact the problem of workplace fatigue is nothing new. Fatigue costs U.S. companies more than $130 billion per year in health-related lost productivity, according to a study by the National Safety Council. The NSC study also reveals that an average company with 1,000 employees loses more than $1 million each year due to missed workdays, lower productivity and increased healthcare due to employee fatigue. The basic problem, says Deborah Hersman, NSC’s president and CEO, is that “too many employees are running on empty.”
Fortunately, we now have the tools and the technology that can help reduce workplace injuries resulting from fatigue. A recent study led by the University of Buffalo and Miami University (with participation from Auburn University and the University of Dayton), and funded by the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), points to the benefits of using wearable devices in the workplace to monitor fatigue levels of employees. The study looked at how such devices could assess ergonomic risk levels during various activities (particularly during assembly or material handling tasks), and the use of a dashboard-type display that could track workplace exposures to physical risk factors.
“By setting parameters, we identified behavioral changes in how people conduct work over time,” explains Lora Cavuoto of the University of Buffalo, principal investigator of the study. “For example, we saw how workers performed the same task in the first hour as compared to the third hour when fatigue became a factor. Wearable technology can uncover precursors to larger problems and help establish safety interventions that may call for scheduled breaks, posture adjustments or vitamin supplements that help the body. Information is power, so knowing when, where and how fatigue impacts worker safety is critical.”
Over half of the study participants said they’d be in favor of using wearables to track safety risk on the job. EHS Today’s own recent research into safety technology, conducted last fall, indicates a similar interest for adopting wearables, sensors and predictive analytics (among other technologies) to improve safety in the workplace. In fact, 91% say they use data analytics to improve their safety operation by predicting the likelihood of worker accidents or equipment breakdown. We should point out, though, that just about half of those respondents (46%) are in the very earliest stages of using data to monitor and predict workplace safety, but it’s an encouraging start.
You can expect to see EHS Today cover safety technology and analytics in new and exciting ways in 2019. As Lora Cavuoto says, information is power, and we intend to provide you with timely and relevant information that will help you empower your employees to work as safely as possible.