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For many years I made my living as a maintenance electrician in an automotive manufacturing plant. I loved the work. It was rewarding, paid well and because the automotive industry is always at the forefront of technology, I was always learning something new.

However, the work hours were long and shift changes were a common occurrence. Many days I worked 10-12 hour shifts. Some weeks I worked dayshift, others the graveyard.

Often I would bounce between several shifts in the same week. For instance, sometimes I’d leave work at 3 pm and have to go back at midnight. It got to a point where my body clock was completely confused. It’s midnight- should I be sleeping or wide awake?

Because most maintenance work takes place when a plant is not running, the weekends were spent repairing a stamping press instead of relaxing with my family and friends. I often found myself so tired I couldn’t hold my head up.

Grueling schedules are a norm for electricians

My story above is a familiar one. Just two weeks ago, I was conducting a safety class for electricians at a college campus. I asked one of the students if he was okay, as he looked completely exhausted.

He assured me that he was fine, but that he had just finished a 10-hour shift before my 8-hour class. He then has to go to his son’s soccer match and then come back for another 10-hour shift!

Needless to say, many accidents occur when fatigue sets in and those of us that shoulder responsibility for our workers’ safety needs to take this very seriously. We are not just morally bound, but we have the professional responsibility to monitor fatigue and safeguard our employees from its effects.

What NFPA 70E States in Regard to Fatigue

Stay alert, stay alive sign warning against fatigue while working on or near energize equipment
NFPA 70E Article 130.6(A)(2)

Employees shall not be permitted to work within the limited approach boundary of energized electrical conductors or circuit parts operating at 50 volts or more, or where other electrical hazards exist, while their alertness is recognizably impaired due to illness, fatigue or other reasons.

National Safety Council on Worker Fatigue

An over-worked, over-tired condition has become the norm for many of us. More than 37% of workers are sleep-deprived, and those most at risk work the night shift, long shifts or irregular shifts. Here are a few important facts from the National Safety Council:

  • Safety performance decreases as employees become tired
  • 62% of night shift workers complain about sleep loss
  • Fatigued worker productivity costs employers $1,200 to $3,100 per employee annually
  • Employees on rotating shifts are particularly vulnerable because they cannot adapt their "body clocks" to an alternative sleep pattern

Tips to fight fatigue

OSHA has a vast collection of studies and information on the effects of fatigue in the workplace. Here are some important tips to consider if you or your workers suffer from fatigue:

  • Make sure that your sleep period is 7-9 hours daily without disruptions.
  • Try to sleep at the same time every day.
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine prior to bedtime to improve sleep quality.
  • If working evening or nights, make sure that sleep has occurred within the last 8 hours before going to work.
  • If napping before work, make sure that the duration is less than 45 minutes or greater than 2 hours to allow for a complete sleep/wake cycle.
  • Make sure that the sleeping environment is comfortable, cool, dark and quiet.
  • Exercise regularly. Eat a balanced diet. Maintain a healthy weight.
  • If you have difficulty sleeping, keep a sleep diary and talk to your doctor.
  • Just say no. Many times we need to say no to additional overtime due to lack of rest.

Fatigue has become a fairly accepted norm in the electrical industry and those of us with the responsibility to ensure our workers’ safety need to bring more awareness to this important matter. Please share this Safety Tip with your team and let’s make sure they get home safely!

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