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by Kelly McCormick

What is Covid-Related Workplace Fatigue?

The coronavirus pandemic has touched all aspects of society, including how we work and function. Health care workers have been especially stretched thin, working longer hours than usual, adding more shifts, and having to adjust to the evolving guidelines for additional PPE and COVID-19 testing, which leaves less time to sleep and recharge. These times have created a unique COVID-related workplace fatigue.

Under regular circumstances, studies suggest that adults need 7–9 hours of sleep per night. Additionally, periods of rest while throughout waking hours are recommended for optimal health and wellbeing. Long work hours and shift work combined with stressful or physically demanding work can lead to poor sleep patterns and extreme fatigue. Fatigue increases the risk for injury and deteriorating health (infections, illnesses, and mental health disorders).

While there is no one solution to fit everyone’s needs, there are general strategies that can be used to manage workplace fatigue to lead to a safer working environment for all.

What steps can employers take to reduce workplace fatigue for team members?

  • Recognize that these are stressful and unusual circumstances and risk for fatigue may be increased.
  • Consider providing supportive services onsite (e.g health food and drinks).
  • Educate staff on sleep and self-care strategies.
  • Create a culture of safety with clear coordination and communication between management and team members. This can include establishing a Fatigue Risk Management Plan or strategies for fatigue mitigation on the job. Share and ensure that employees understand the processes.
  • Provide daily communication rounds with staff to share information on work hour needs, work processes.
  • Spot the signs and symptoms of fatigue (e.g., yawning, difficulty keeping eyes open, inability to concentrate) in yourself and your employees and take steps to mitigate fatigue-related injury or error.
    • The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is a short survey that can be posted in a common area for workers to quickly rate their fatigue.
  • Create a procedure that does not punish team members for reporting when they, or their coworkers, are too fatigued to work safely. Build it into team comradery as an example of how management and staff can support each other.
  • Develop processes to relieve a team member from their duties if they are too fatigued to work safely.
    • If available, and agreeable with staff, consider assigning team members who are just starting their shifts onto safety-critical tasks.
    • If possible, rotate staff through tasks that are repetitive and/or strenuous. Tools or workstations that are unavoidably shared need to be properly cleaned and disinfected between usage.
    • If possible, schedule physically and mentally demanding workloads and monotonous work in shorter shifts.
  • Provide information for team members on the consequences of sleep deprivation and resources to assist workers manage fatigue.
  • Allow staff enough time to organize their off-duty obligations and get sufficient rest and recovery.
    • If possible, schedule at least 11 hours off in-between shifts (each 24-hour period), and one full day of rest per seven days for adequate sleep and recovery.
    • Avoid penalizing those who may have restricted availability to work extra shifts/longer hours (e.g., caring for dependents).
  • Avoid scheduling staff for more than 12 hours, if possible.
    • Provide strategies for staff to take short breaks every 2 hours during their shifts, including short naps and longer for meals.
  • Formalize and encourage regularly scheduled breaks in clean and safe areas where social distancing can be maintained. Recognize the need for additional time for increased hand hygiene and putting on and taking off required personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Provide strategies for staff to take short breaks every 2 hours during their shifts, including short naps and longer for meals.
  • Consider providing alternative transportation to and from work (Employer paid Uber/Lyft’s) to ease additional burden associated with longer commutes.

Additional Resources for Employers:

CDC Sleep and Sleep Disorders website: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html
Epworth Sleepiness Scale: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/emres/longhourstraining/scale.html
NIOSH Science Blog — Managing Fatigue During Times of Crisis: Guidance for Nurses, Managers and Other Health Care Workers: blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2020/04/02/fatigue-crisis-hcw/
National Response Team Guidance for Managing Fatigue During Disaster Operations: www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/oilspillresponse/pdfs/NRT-Fatigue-for-Emergency-Workers.pdf
National Sleep Foundation Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic website: www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-guidelines-covid-19-isolation
American Academy of Sleep Medicine: Sleep Education website: sleepeducation.org

 

Heather Howard is a Human Resources Director at Physicians Endoscopy. She can be reached at hhoward@endocenters.com.