The COVID-19 pandemic has created a world of contradictions in the workplace. People in some occupations have found themselves working exclusively from home for nearly the last year. Others have found themselves unemployed, while still others have found themselves working at a frenzied pace. There is increased pressure on the supply chain as well as the means of delivery, meaning that employees at production facilities for food and other essential supplies, distribution warehouses, and retail outlets often have had to increase their work pace and hours to keep up with demand despite many fellow employees being out sick with COVID-19. Further, first responders, emergency workers, and many health care workers also have faced long hours at work as they strive to provide many of the services people rely upon, pandemic or not. These efforts have often been complicated by many coworkers being sidelined by COVID-19, leaving remaining employees to pick up the slack with longer shifts.
Risks of Fatigue for Employee Safety are Well-Documented
For quite some time, federal health officials have known that employee fatigue is a significant threat to workplace safety. When employees have to work long shifts, extra shifts, overtime, and evening or overnight shifts, they become fatigued. Often the extra work hours are at times that disrupt normal sleep patterns, which in addition to extra work hours just contributes to employee fatigue. Even employees working 40 hours are at heightened risk of fatigue when working longer shifts, evening or overnight shifts, rotating shifts, or irregular shifts. These irregular hours can result in physical and mental stress for employees, as does working extra hours. This all can contribute to workplace fatigue, making employees less alert and impairing decision-making, concentration, and memory.
Naturally, this fatigue and its impact on employees play a major role in workplace injuries. Employee injuries happen 20% more often during evening shifts than during daytime shifts, and 30% more frequently during night time shifts. Working 12-hour shifts, regardless of the time of day, results in a 37% increase in the risk of a workplace injury.
Further, a number of studies have found that chronic fatigue can lead to a wide array of serious long-term health problems, such as heart disease, sleep disorders, and even some cancers. Some research indicates that workplace fatigue can result in chronic health conditions that can lead to employees using more sick time and missing work and increased medical expenses.
The Pandemic Has Put Many at Risk of Workplace Fatigue
Many occupations, even before the pandemic, often required employees to work long shifts or irregular hours, or both. In many instances, that has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. Many people in these occupations, already at high risk for workplace fatigue, are now likely even more susceptible to the hazards of fatigue heightening their risk of a workplace injury. These workplace injuries generally are covered exclusively by workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation pays for workplace injuries regardless of who is at fault, giving injured employees income while they recover from any injuries they incur on the job as well as paying medical bills generally and for any necessary therapy.