Every once in a while, we experience the afternoon slump where a wave of tiredness affects our ability to get work done. Many people recharge with a cup of coffee or an energy drink. Maybe a brisk walk outside and some fresh air will get you over the hump. A few lucky employees work in offices equipped with napping pods or nap rooms to take a 30-minute power nap.
But being tired and needing a recharge is different than being fatigued. Tiredness may be a symptom of fatigue, but fatigue is a state of physical and mental exhaustion. In many industries, fatigue leads to overall decrease in productivity. However, in construction, the decrease in alertness and energy levels caused by fatigue can be very dangerous. With unfinished electrical and mechanical systems, heavy machinery, scaffolding and power tools, the inability the concentrate can cause major accidents or injury. Because fatigue endangers workers and overall productivity, it is important to understand what causes fatigue and how to prevent it.
Causes of Fatigue in Construction
Many different factors cause fatigue. Construction workers are at higher risk for fatigue due to the nature of the type of work involved. Below are some of the causes of fatigue for construction workers:
Extended hours – Many employees generally work 40 hours a week. Because construction work is seasonal, construction workers tend to work longer hours during spring and summer to make up for lost income during winter. Employees work overtime to adhere to stringent project deadlines which may have liquidated damages. Sometimes work occurs at night, such as road work, so it does not disrupt create additional traffic. When workers live further from jobsite and are commuting long distances then their overall work time is much longer.
Physically and mentally demanding work – From lifting and moving heavy materials to operating heavy equipment, the nature of construction work is very physically demanding. This places a hard toll on a worker’s body. Additionally, the high level of concentration needed to operate equipment and tools is a source of mental exhaustion on a worker.
Environmental aspects – When work is done outdoors, workers are subject to the environmental elements and cause undue stress on a worker’s body. Working in extreme temperatures, noise on the jobsite, inhaling fumes from hazardous materials and chemicals, and vibration of tools also provides an additional layer of exertion on the body.
Personal habits – A worker’s personal lifestyle habits can also negatively affect performance and cause additional fatigue. Professional conflicts with a supervisor or dealing with personal issues such as loss of a loved one affect a worker’s emotional well-being and can create additional fatigue. Unhealthy lifestyle choices including smoking, drug and alcohol use, and poor sleeping and eating habits can drain your body of important energy and nutrients.
Preventing Fatigue in Construction
Now that we’ve identified the main causes of fatigue in construction workers, employers can develop a workplace fatigue prevention policy by incorporating the programs below:
Managing workload – Employers need to be cognizant of the workload and expectations that they are placing onto their employees. Insurance claims and accidents can become costly for employers who place unrealistic schedules and long hours onto their employees. Employers should closely monitor the amount of overtime extended to employees and strongly encourage them to take necessary breaks or periods of rest.
Wearable technology – There are many wearables and apps on the market that workers can wear to alert them of fatigue. Biometric sensors, such as the CAT Smartband, helps identify fatigue levels of each worker and notify them before they become fatigue-impaired. Exoskeleton technology reduces the physical strain of lifting heavy tools to reduce worker’s physical exertion. Even simple health monitoring devices and time apps can remind workers to take a break or drink water.
Wellness program – Developing a corporate wellness program help encourage healthy behaviors to combat fatigue in employees. Wellness programs incorporate health assessments and programs to help members towards making healthy lifestyle choices. Programs that help employees quit smoking or develop better diet and exercise routines can be as simple as providing a community for support, offering healthy alternatives for snacks, or subsidizing gym memberships. Healthier employees have more energy at work to be more focused and productive.
Positive culture – Creating a culture where employees can freely communicate any personal or professional problems to their employer can go a long way. Allowing employees to inform managers know when they or another co-worker are experiencing fatigue. When allowed to share information without judgement or reprimand demonstrates a supportive environment and commitment to safety.
Employees are the number one asset of a construction company. Fatigued employees can be a company’s biggest liability decreasing the amount of productivity and increasing the risk of accidents. Understanding the causes of fatigue will allow a construction company to develop programs to help their employees prevent fatigue. The programs will pay off in the long run. Because employees work hard and remain loyal to companies that take care of and support their employees.