In a January 2013 article written for the Office of Health Safety Canada, author Ann Ruperstein outlines and illustrates the extraordinary safety problem that fatigue and sleep disorders have become, especially as a result of the increase in use of flexible shift workers. She also identifies the research and increasing corporate interest in measures to respond to the problem.
According to Dr. Adam Moscovitch of University of Calgary, over the last 100 years the average amount of sleep diminished from 9 hours to six, and at least 10% of the population is affected by chronic sleep deprivation. Moreover, in this 24/7 world, many see sleeping as an unproductive “a waste of time”, and attempt to accomplish more and more during each day.
Does it matter? In a recent Australian study, researchers compared the cognitive functioning due to sleepiness with that due to alcohol consumption. They match; a professional working with 17 hours of wakefulness will have the same decision-making and reflex capability as someone who is legally impaired with alcohol. According to statistics from the National Sleep Foundation in Virginia, over 200,000 car accidents a year are related to sleepiness and fatigue. The Exxon Valdez oil spill, Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and multiple airplane crashes all cite fatigue as a significant factor in the catastrophes. Managing fatigue among flexible schedule professionals is a national safety issue as much as a productivity and health issue.
Both the Canadian and the U.S. occupational safety and health agencies have substantially increased their focus on the real consequences of sleep deprivation. The changing picture of the global workforce –a wider range of professions working more flexible hours than ever in history – compelled the OSHA agencies to expand their historical focus on factory and machine safety to include fatigue issues.