Worker fatigue is often an overlooked hazard on the construction site. Fatigue, whether physical or mental, impairs a construction worker’s ability to safely and effectively perform their job duties. It increases the risk of accidents and injuries which can lead to unnecessary workers’ compensation costs and can greatly reduce productivity on a project.

Common causes of worker fatigue include extended hours, night work and increased workload. Physically demanding and repetitive work, which is the norm in construction, is a big contributor to construction worker fatigue. Work that requires a high level of concentration, like operating heavy equipment, can also lead to worker fatigue. Another factor that leads to worker fatigue is environmental conditions, such as working in extreme heat or cold temperatures.

Factors outside of work that cause worker fatigue are lack of sleep or poor sleep, unhealthy eating habits, stress, drug and alcohol use as well as many medications. Signs of fatigue include tiredness, muscle weakness, dizziness, headaches and the inability to concentrate.

Fatigue affects a worker’s performance on the job site in many ways. Fatigued workers aren’t alert, with loss of concentration, hindering response and reaction time. Reduced muscle capacity results in workers not being able to give it their all, leading to decreased productivity.

Employer Responsibilities

Employers should make workers aware of the dangers of working while fatigued. Don’t overload workers with too much or put unrealistic expectations for the completion of tasks because workers will feel compelled to push themselves too hard to complete them. Employers should monitor workers for signs of fatigue. There is even wearable technology designed to monitor worker fatigue. Ensure that workers are taking adequate breaks throughout the day. Make sure workers are drinking plenty of fluids, especially on hot days, as dehydration can contribute to worker fatigue. Employers need to be mindful of the effects that shift work, overnight work and extended hours have on their employees.

While a quick nap or a jolt of caffeine might help with staying alert and focused for a brief period, the only true cure for worker fatigue is sleep, a full night’s sleep, typically between seven and nine hours. Employers’ task is keeping their employees safe. Ignoring worker fatigue is a serious issue as it can be costly and lead to serious accidents and injuries on the construction site.

Not a participant of the ECA Safety forum? Want to get involved? We meet quarterly, 10:00 a.m. at the ECA offices. If you can’t make it in person please feel free to phone in. Our minutes and handouts are posted on our website. See you at the next meeting.

By Kendall Jones, Construction Connect