Interim NIOSH Training for Emergency Responders: Reducing Risks Associated with Long Work Hours

When these signs and symptoms occur, take action to reduce fatigue and potential safety risks:
  • Have the responder take a break if fatigue is minor; if major signs and symptoms occur, send responder to hotel room or rest area to sleep.
  • Have an alert responder take over safety-sensitive activities or reschedule these activities to another time when the responder will be alert.
  • Use the buddy system; buddies should monitor each other and promote activities to increase the alertness of their partner.

“The most stressed out I have ever been was during the Deepwater Horizon response, when I deployed by myself to the emergency operations center (EOC) in Houma, LA. I tried to organize an immense activity, which we had never done before, and secure funding from the Coast Guard for our work, while trying not to conduct the liaison activities that I normally do when working in EOCs. I was working 18-hour days and was having trouble sleeping. I would work until midnight, go to bed, and wake up at 5 a.m. with my heart pounding and my to-do list racing through my head. I couldn’t go back to sleep after that. I did get some sleeping pills, but they didn’t really help. I felt like I was getting crazier and crazier as the days went by, and my sleep was becoming less frequent. I really needed some rest days and more people to spread the work around.”
– Quote from a Deepwater Horizon Responder

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Page last reviewed: April 1, 2020