Fatigue could put you in danger
Research has shown that fatigue affects people in ways very similar to alcohol intoxication — they perform just as poorly when tired as they do when they are drunk.
Simply put, fatigue means exhaustion, tiredness or sluggishness. It results mostly from inadequate quantity or quality of sleep. Both are important for maintaining normal alertness and performance.
Fatigue is a workplace safety concern because it reduces attention and reaction time, which can cause someone to make errors in judgment, leading to mistakes that can result in injuries and property damage.
Sleep requirements can vary between individuals, but on average, we need at least 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep every day.
Inadequate sleep over a series of nights causes a sleep debt, which results in increased fatigue that can sometimes be worse than a single night of inadequate sleep.
There are many reasons for not obtaining the quality or quantity of sleep required to be rested adequately. Some of these reasons are work-related and some are not.
Examples of work-related fatigue factors are:
• Hours of work, especially night work, early morning starts and high total number of hours.
• Task demands or time pressures that do not allow for adequate breaks
• Working conditions that can
compound fatigue, such as heat stress and boring or repetitive tasks.
Examples of non-work-related fatigue factors include:
• Undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders.
• Individual family or social factors that take priority over sleep.
A condition such as diabetes, allergies, hypertension, or a short-term illness such as a cold can cause someone to be fatigued more easily. Medication also could affect sleep or cause drowsiness.
Fatigue-related symptoms can be divided into three categories:
Physical — Yawning, heavy eyelids, rubbing the eyes, head drooping, microsleeps (brief periods of unconsciousness).
Mental — Difficulty concentrating and remembering, failing to communicate important information, failing to anticipate events or actions, accidentally doing the wrong thing or failing to do the right thing.
Emotional — Quieter or more withdrawn than normal, lacking in energy or motivation to do a task well, irritability.
The best way to prevent fatigue is to get enough quality sleep, which means making time for it during your time off and catching up on your sleep debt.
In addition, here are some temporary measures to help manage fatigue:
• Take a nap. Sleeping for 20 minutes might refresh you enough so you can keep working safely. If you’re driving, make sure you get off the road to a well-lit area and have good ventilation in your vehicle.
• Take a break. Stop what you’re doing, walk around or exercise and get some fresh air.
• Don’t be too comfortable, otherwise your alertness could decrease. Sit straight if you’re in a chair, and if possible, keep your environment cool, well ventilated, a bit noisy and brightly lit.
• Stay hydrated, eat light meals and avoid sleep-inducing foods and alcohol. Don’t trust caffeine for alertness — it takes about half an hour to have any effect, lasts only a short time and leaves you even more tired when it wears off.
• Break the monotony. If you’re driving, change the radio station often, sing along, or talk to yourself — but don’t use your cellphone.
Safe work at extreme heights
Falls from heights are among the leading causes of workplace injury and death. Laws vary by jurisdiction, but most require employers to have a written, site-specific fall protection plan when employees are working over a certain vertical height and are not protected by permanent guardrails.
There are heights — and there are extreme heights. Although it does not have a precise definition, that term is used often to describe work involving the construction and maintenance of such structures as:
• Communication towers and antennas.
• Wind turbines.
• Tall buildings.
• Power transmission lines.
Any work at heights should be properly planned and supervised. First, a risk assessment will identify and address hazards related to the work to be performed. This information helps in selection of protective equipment for the job, as well as adequate control measures and precautions to ensure the safety of workers and others — the plan.
This plan should identify the fall hazards and fall protection systems required for each area, and the procedures for using, maintaining, fitting and inspecting protection equipment. It should also include procedures for rescuing a worker who has fallen and is suspended by a personal fall protection system or safety net.
People working at heights must be trained in practical fall prevention and
fall arrest techniques. They also must know how to properly select, fit, use, inspect, and maintain the gear they will be using.
Depending on the type of tall structure, there are various means by which workers get to where they will be working — cage-protected ladders, hoists and helicopters, for example. Each will require a degree of training to ensure safety.
Weather is a major consideration, for such conditions as:
High winds. Working in them tires a person faster, so accidents are more likely to happen and rescues or evacuations will be harder to execute. Communication becomes difficult as typically the only noise one can hear on a radio or phone is the whistling of the wind, and shouting isn’t a good option.
Extreme heat or cold. All workers should be trained to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, hypothermia and frostbite, as well as how to prevent them. Note that metal surfaces exposed to direct sunlight might be hot enough to cause skin burns, and that dehydration, wind burn and even sunburn can occur rapidly in cold, dry weather.
Ice and Snow. Both make tall structures quite dangerous. Additionally, sections of ice could fall to the ground and be hazardous to people and property.
Moisture. Surfaces can become very slick with rain or dew, and for that reason, climbing a wet structure is highly discouraged.
Mud. Along with precipitation comes mud, which also make climbing dangerous and poses hazards on the ground such as stuck or difficult to maneuver machinery and unstable holes or trenches.
Lightning. Being in close proximity to metal components and electrical equipment poses particular concerns during thunderstorms or lightning events. Get off the structure if either occurs or is likely to.
Being near a tall structure, especially with climbers above, can be hazardous because of falling objects. Two or more persons working at different heights can also be risky. Be aware that dropped tools or equipment not only can go straight down, they could ricochet off a section of the structure and take a different path of descent.
Don’t take the darkness lightly
As daylight diminishes during the fall and winter months, decreased visibility can be very dangerous for workers in numerous occupations, particularly construction.
The end of daylight saving often leaves many of us feeling fatigued, and this can pose safety risks. Studies suggest it takes people who work traditional hours several days to fully adjust their sleep schedule after the time change.
The safety plan for a darkened worksite should include an analysis of potential hazards, such as blind spots, tripping or falling hazards and dangerous equipment.
To help prevent accidents in low-light or dark conditions, consider the following:
• As visibility decreases, adjust accordingly. Vehicle operators should reduce speed and workers should exercise extra caution.
• It’s not enough to wear bright colored clothing; you need approved high-visibility apparel.
• If the use of large machinery is required, several workers should be assigned as spotters to check all surrounding areas and warn other workers and/or machine operators.
• Workers and equipment should be separated as much as possible. The safest routes to walk or drive equipment should be clearly identified.
• Lighting helps increase visibility. If workers do not have enough visibility to work safely, they should not be performing their jobs. This applies not only to night shifts but early mornings as well.
• Bright lights on darkened worksites can create glare that inhibits visibility. They need to be positioned correctly to ensure the best visibility.
• All vehicles and machinery have blind spots, but when visibility is reduced they can be much larger.
Road work can be especially hazardous
in low-light conditions.
One reason road construction is done at night is to avoid traffic congestion and related problems encountered during daylight hours. However, it also carries the risk that motorists are less attentive and drive at higher speeds. In addition, more drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs are involved in work zone accidents at night.
Here are suggested practices
to help minimize risks:
• Use portable, changeable message signs to encourage speed compliance.
• Deploy what is termed positive protection, a portable concrete or plastic barrier or other device that minimizes vehicle damage but prevents intrusion into the work zone.
• Wear a hard hat and clothing that has retroreflective material visible from all sides and from a minimum distance of 300 meters (1,000 feet).
• Where positive protection is not available, use retroreflective material on all drums and cones and, where possible, use drums instead of cones. When using cones, stack two together or put weights on them to keep them in place. Make certain all signs and traffic channeling devices are maintained in place and in good condition.
• A full-time traffic control person should monitor the work zone several times a night and review all aspects of project visibility. The person also must make sure signage does not send confusing, mixed messages.
• Reduce the glare from work lighting. To avoid blinding motorists passing the work zone, position and align lights to keep them aimed toward the work area and not toward traffic. Glare is also a problem for motorist visibility and is caused by not extending light poles to the proper height or by not aiming the light downward to limit illumination to the work zone.
Overexertion injuries should be taken seriously
Overexertion in the workplace causes injury when a person works beyond his or her physical capacity. These types of injuries are usually caused by repetitive motion, such as typing, lifting heavy objects, or working in an awkward position.
Overexertion is generally
• Lifting, pulling, pushing and carrying heavy items
• Repeated or long term bending or twisting at the waist.
• Long term poor posture when sitting or standing.
• Long time absorbing vibration from machinery or driving.
However, physical overexertion is not just a workplace risk. Other causes of overexertion injuries include:
• Sports and exercise.
• Motion control video games.
• Hobbies like woodworking, building, and remodelling.
It is important to recognize if you or another worker is overexerting themselves. Some signs and symptoms of overexertion in the workplace include:
Losing your breath or failure to talk
A person who is overexerting themselves physically will generally be short of breath and unable to speak. While performing work-related tasks, such as lifting, workers should be sure they are not breathing to hard. Take a few moments to pause from the task and relax if you are having trouble breathing.
A worker who is overexerting themselves will usually feel dehydrated. Dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, and muscle cramps are all signs of dehydration.
Fatigue and muscle/joint aches
Overexertion can lead to a variety of chronic injuries, including stress fractures and tendinitis. Soreness and aching in joints or muscles are precursors to most overexertion injuries and it’s important to discontinue the activity at least temporarily if you are noticing pain.
You can avoid overexertion injuries by:
Understanding your limits
Probably the most crucial factor for preventing overexertion injuries at work or home is knowing your own limits. When doing any job duty, the worker should pay attention to their own body and be aware if the task is leading to any muscle soreness, cramping, fatigue, or pain as these all indicate overexertion.
Using proper body mechanics
and good posture
Using proper technique in activities such as lifting is very important for protecting muscles, joints, and ligaments against overuse. Poor form and posture are common causes of injury, including overexertion of the neck or back.
Workers performing physically strenuous tasks should be sure to take adequate breaks to prevent overexertion. The most effective breaks involve rest, stretching the muscles, and rehydrating to prevent fluid loss. Warning signs of exertion that may require immediate medical assistance include dizziness, rapid pulse and irregular heartbeat, chest pain, and profuse sweating.
Getting assistance for tasks that
are too difficult
When a work task calls for lifting, pushing, carrying, or pulling any heavy object, a worker should ask for help if they are unable to handle the load themselves. If another person is unable to assist, using equipment to help move the object is best.
If you think you have sustained an overexertion injury at work, it’s important that you report the injury to your supervisor, and visit your doctor for the best course of treatment.
Knowing about hazards is a right
If there are health and safety hazards where you work, you have a right to know about them. Employers are required by law to ensure that you are informed fully about those hazards
While specific right-to-know legislation can differ slightly in various North American jurisdictions, it is basically
the same everywhere.
Employers not only are required to make you aware of hazards, they must ensure that you are trained properly to protect yourself from them.
A major focus of right-to-know legislation in both Canada and the United States is the danger posed by chemicals and other substances.
Canada has the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), whose main components are product identification and classification, labeling, safety data sheets and worker training and education. Suppliers, employers and workers all have specified responsibilities.
In the United States, employers are required to inform and train their employees under the Hazard Communication Standard established by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).
In both countries, employers must:
• Provide workers with effective information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area.
• Keep a current list of hazardous chemicals that are in the workplace.
• Make sure hazardous chemical containers are labeled properly with the identity of the chemical and appropriate hazard warnings.
There are many other hazards that workers need to know about. A common way to classify them is by category:
Biological — bacteria, viruses, insects, plants, birds, animals and humans, etc.
Ergonomic — repetitive movements, improper set up of workstation, etc.
Physical — radiation, magnetic fields, pressure extremes, noise, etc.
Psychosocial — stress, violence, etc.
Safety — slipping/tripping hazards, inappropriate machine guarding, equipment malfunctions or breakdowns.
A Job Safety Analysis (JSA), also known as a Job Hazard Assessment (JHA), is an important way of obtaining and presenting right-to-know information. This is a system to identify and control hazards that can be encountered on
There are four basic stages
in conducting a JSA:
• Selecting the job to be analyzed.
• Breaking the job down into a sequence of steps.
• Identifying potential hazards.
• Determining preventive measures to overcome these hazards.
A JSA, or a written work procedure based on it, can form the basis for regular contact between supervisors and workers. It can serve as a teaching aid for initial job training and as a briefing guide for infrequent jobs. It can be used as a standard for health and safety inspections or observations. In particular, a JSA will assist in completing comprehensive accident investigations.
Having the right to know is one thing. Making sure you are getting the full benefit of it is another.
• Taking whatever training is provided.
• Applying the safety rules and procedures you have learned.
• Asking questions whenever you are uncertain about how to be safe in a potentially hazardous situation.
• Being alert for ‘hidden’ hazards and report them immediately.
You are responsible for following all the proper procedures in your job. This includes checking to make sure personal protective equipment (PPE) works properly, knowing how to use it, and making sure you use it.
A safety culture is very personal
No safety and wellness program works properly unless everyone involved takes it personally. That means establishing and sustaining a strong “culture” in which there’s commitment at all levels to a safe, healthy workplace.
Many companies have come to realize this kind of dedication can have major financial benefits — lower insurance costs and increased productivity, for example. However, stressing that fact to employees won’t necessarily have a positive effect. Quite the opposite could be true if a worker is left with the impression the company’s concern for his or her welfare is really all about the bottom line.
The expression “tone at the top” is often used to describe leadership issues, and so it is with management’s approach to safety and health. If there’s sincere commitment shown, it won’t take long to filter down, and make building the safety culture a lot easier.
Much of the building often falls to the safety committee, but its efforts will be wasted if it lacks respect from the people it’s supposed to be helping. The group’s meetings must be scheduled regularly and well attended.
The primary objective is to make safety a way of life for everyone, on and off the job. That’s the culture. Here are four key elements:
Orientation and training — The first step for any employee is to be given a thorough understanding of the company’s policies, regulations and procedures. Too often, a new arrival gets a quick benefits review and a handbook, fills out some forms and then (maybe) a basic safety overview. Safety training should be an ongoing, meaningful process.
Participation — Willingness to be an active participant in the safety culture is not something to be demanded. It should be the result of an attitude that is nurtured to the point where workers have no problem reporting unsafe conditions or near-misses. They’re happy to be part of a safety committee or to be involved in activities it has organized.
Prevention — This degree of participation is essential to effective prevention of accidents. Workers who have bought into the safety culture are likely to have a much better grasp of how to recognize hazards and of the procedures necessary to deal with them.
Accountability — Hazards, of course, can include not just physical conditions, but also human behaviour. Employees must understand that a mistake by one can affect everyone. And that’s where accountability comes in. They need to take personal responsibility for their actions. They should be able to acknowledge their mistakes, and those of others, without reprisal.
Obviously, there are aspects of workplace safety that must be governed by a clear set of rules. Discipline for serious offenses that could result in serious injury or death must follow a strict policy that is applied equally. Otherwise, efforts to establish a credible safety culture will be seriously undermined.
To get a reading on how your company’s safety culture is doing, answer these questions:
* Are people at all levels involved
* Are individual employees asked frequently for their input on safety issues?
* Is safety information easily available?
* Are managers likely to notice unsafe acts?
* Is appropriate action taken quickly to resolve safety concerns?
* Do employees feel they can report unsafe acts or near-misses?
The answer to all of these, as you know, should be yes. If there was a no to any of them, you’ve got some work to do.
Avoid office politics by thinking positive
When a group of people work together every day, there is bound to be “politics”. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and a say, so it is likely that conflicts will occur because of differing opinions.
However, office politics doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If you put more effort in dissuading your coworkers from taking part in destructive politics such as gossiping, bullying, or slamming the boss every five minutes, chances are your workplace will become more positive. Yes, this is easier said than done, but if you stay the course, your co-workers will have respect for you and just might follow your lead.
A word of caution; taking the high ground does not mean talking down to colleagues or making them feel as if they are inferior to you. It’s a fine line to walk, but avoid being condescending when trying the following tips:
The easiest way to avoid problems is to get along with people. This does not mean you have to be a pushover. You can be pleasant and professional, while at the same time being assertive when necessary. If you have a concern, focus only on the issue, not on the person. Working with others also means being careful about choosing sides during office power struggles. Instead, try to focus on your tasks, dealing with people in either faction on the basis of the tasks alone, and avoid talk on the political issue that separates the groups. If that issue does come up, stay silent or gently try to change the subject.
Change from within
Praise others, encourage teamwork and be empathetic to your co-workers. By making an effort to change the culture to one of kindness and honesty, you are on the road to creating a better environment for everyone.
Keep office matters to yourself
Does your organization have issues? Have people told you things in confidence? Then keep those matters to yourself. Talking to outsiders about issues within your organization makes all of you look bad to that outsider. People will find out that you spoke about what they told you, and they’ll lose confidence in you and respect for you.
Don’t sink to their level
One way to deal with difficult colleagues is to ask them for a private conversation. Calmly ask them why they acted how they did, rather than accusing them. This is often the best way to change behaviour, as it requires your colleague to reflect on their actions.
The best way to keep out of trouble politically is to be seen as someone who doesn’t get involved with office politics so just don’t play. Do what you say you’re going to do, alert people to problems, and admit your mistakes. Others will respect you, even if they don’t always agree with you. More important, you have a lower chance of being a victim of politics.
Avoid badmouthing the boss
You are on a coffee break and your coworkers start complaining about the boss. You may not feel comfortable about joining in, but if you don’t, it looks awkward in the group. What can you do? Try changing the subject by linking the boss to another topic, then talking about that topic instead. If you feel nervous about trying that, silently finish your coffee, check your phone, and then make a polite excuse to leave the table.
Office politics can happen in any organisation. Just remember that you decide how you will behave and what your boundaries will be.