Behind the Wheel at Work

NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety

Behind the Wheel at Work is a quarterly eNewsletter bringing you the latest news from the NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety.

Volume 4 Number 2 June 2019

Driver Fatigue

You may remember when we discussed the difference between fatigued driving and drowsy driving in a previous newsletter. In this month’s newsletter, we’re sharing tips for how employers can reduce the risks of driver fatigue. For more road safety topics, access previous newsletters.

Demystifying Fatigue Risk Management

Chaos in the brain

As many as one in five fatal crashes in the general population involve driver fatigue.[1] Job-related factors (e.g., long hours of work and driving, long commutes) contribute to workers’ risk of driver fatigue. While regulations set maximum numbers of driving and work hours for jobs such as driving a large truck, this approach doesn’t account for individual differences in sleep needs and health. Workers in most other jobs aren’t covered by regulations intended to reduce driver fatigue. The good news: There are ways that any company can reduce the risks of driver fatigue through a fatigue risk management system (FRMS). Companies use an FRMS to promote alertness among workers, identify fatigue-prone tasks, and lessen fatigue and its potential consequences.[2]

Research shows:

After 17 consecutive hours awake, impairment is equivalent to having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .05. After 24 hours awake, impairment is equivalent to a BAC of .10.[3]

Things to know before starting an FRMS

  • Employers and workers share the responsibilities of managing fatigue.
  • Your FRMS should be data-driven, based on your company’s operations, fatigue-related incidents, and other sources.
  • A successful FRMS depends on commitment and follow-through by senior leaders, with defined roles and responsibilities throughout the management chain.
  • The FRMS doesn’t stand alone – it becomes part of your overall health and safety management system.
  • Driver fatigue risks differ by the type of work, work schedules, remoteness of the work location, and other factors. You will need to tailor your FRMS to account for these differences.
  • As with any management system, continued improvement is essential to a FRMS’s success.

Managing fatigue using the fatigue-risk chain

Putting an FRMS in place may seem daunting, but it’s easier if you break it up into smaller actions. Fatigue management experts have outlined a 5-level chain of events that leads to a fatigue-related incident. Think of these levels as “lines of defense” – at each level are opportunities to stop the chain of events from advancing to the next level. Employer and worker expectations should be defined for each level.

Fatigue-Risk Chain

Level 1: Adequate sleep opportunity

Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to maintain optimal health and performance. Ensuring that workers are off duty long enough to have adequate opportunity for sufficient sleep is critical. Off-duty time includes time to commute, eat, and engage in necessary personal activities.


  • Implement policies that outline overtime limits and maximum allowable consecutive shifts.
  • Ensure sufficient staffing levels across operations. When determining appropriate numbers of workers needed, don’t forget to factor in the inevitable absences that occur due to vacation days, sickness, turnover, etc.


  • Plan your off-duty activities to allow enough time for adequate sleep.

Level 2: Actually obtaining enough sleep

While employers can work to ensure that adequate sleep opportunity is available, this does not guarantee that a worker will act responsibly and obtain proper sleep. A survey of the U.S. workforce found that 37% of workers got less than the recommended minimum of 7 hours of sleep.[4]


  • Provide employee training on sleep health.
  • Implement a workplace sleep disorder screening/management program.


  • Get enough sleep. If fatigue persists after adequate sleep, get screened for health problems that may be affecting your sleep.
  • Create a sleeping environment that helps you sleep well: a dark, quiet, cool room with no electronics.

Levels 3 and 4: Behavioral symptoms and fatigue-related errors

Workers who are fatigued will likely exhibit symptoms and make errors. These can be identified and appropriate action can be taken before an incident occurs.


  • Allow for rest breaks and napping during extended work shifts.
  • Give supervisors and workers fatigue-symptom checklists and encourage self-reporting.
  • Encourage peer monitoring of fatigue symptoms among co-workers.
  • Review data from in-vehicle monitoring technologies to detect signs of possible fatigue episodes, such as lane departures.
  • Consider using physiological measurement (e.g., wearables such as instrumented wristbands and sunglasses) to monitor driver fatigue.


  • If you feel fatigued while driving: pull over, drink a cup of coffee, and take a 15-30 minute nap before continuing. The effects are only temporary – the only “cure” for fatigue is sleep.
  • Watch yourself and your peers for fatigue-related symptoms.
  • Report instances of fatigue in yourself and others to your direct supervisor, who can help to determine the safest course of action.

Level 5: Fatigue-related incidents

Valuable lessons about the role fatigue played in incidents at the workplace can emerge when investigations include key questions about the workers’ alertness, their work schedule, and health factors.


  • Train incident investigators to assess the role of fatigue in incidents and near-miss incidents.
  • Collect data on sleep history of workers involved, hours worked leading up to the incident, time of day, hours of driving, etc.


  • Speak honestly if you are questioned about a fatigue-related incident. Fatigue is a normal biological response – it is not a reflection of how well you do your job.

The bottom line:

  • There is no substitute for sleep. No amount of experience, motivation, or professionalism can overcome the body’s biological need to sleep.
  • Driver fatigue is a significant workplace safety risk, but fatigue risk management systems can help to stop the chain of events that could lead to a crash.

[1] Tefft BC [2014]. Prevalence of motor vehicle crashes involving drowsy drivers, United States, 2009-2013pdf iconexternal icon. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

[2] Lerman SE, et al. [2012]. Fatigue risk management in the workplace. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine 54 : 231-258.

[3] Dawson D, Reid K [1997]. Fatigue, alcohol, and performance impairmentexternal icon. Nature Jul 17;388(6639):235.

[4] Shockey TM, Wheaton AG. Short Sleep Duration by Occupation Group — 29 States, 2013–2014. MMWR 2017;66:207–213.

Safety Tip
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Involve workers in developing and implementing fatigue risk management in your workplace.

Fatigue Resources

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NIOSH fact sheets: Oil and Gas Workers: How to Prevent Fatigued Driving at Work & Oil and Gas Employers: How to Prevent Fatigued Driving at Work

National Transportation Safety Board fact sheet: Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidentspdf iconexternal icon

National Safety Council webpage: Fatigue – You’re More Than Just Tiredexternal icon

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration webpage: Drowsy Drivingexternal icon

North American Fatigue Management Program webpage: A Comprehensive Approach for Managing Commercial Driver Fatigueexternal icon

International Association of Oil and Gas Producers report: Report 626 – Managing Fatigue in the Workplaceexternal icon

Tips for Driving in Hurricane Season

car windshield in traffic jam during rain

Hurricanes – massive storm systems that form over warm ocean waters and move toward land – can affect any U.S. coast or territory in or near the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean.[1] Hurricane season is June 1 to November 30 in the Atlantic and May 15 to November 30 in the Pacific.[1] Hurricanes can disrupt your business operations and put your workers who drive at risk.  It is important to prepare for high winds and flooding so that your drivers know what to do before, during, and after a storm hits.

  • If driving is necessary before or after a hurricane, make sure that drivers and supervisors agree on the driver’s route, destination, and travel schedule.
  • Set policies that require drivers to consult with their supervisors to continue driving if the weather is bad.
  • Check official weather bulletinsexternal icon that monitor the storm’s path and strength.
  • Provide workers with an emergency kit with food, flares, jumper cables, maps, tools, a fire extinguisher, flashlight, and extra batteries.[2] Consider adding a portable phone charger.
  • Give workers information about road construction/closures, roadways likely to flood, washed-out bridges, and other hazards (e.g., downed trees, power lines).
  • Remind workers:
    • If driving through an area under a hurricane warning, find safe shelter right away as hurricane conditions are imminent.[3] Hurricane warnings are issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds to allow important preparations to take place.[3]
    • Stay off roads during a hurricane.
    • If you must drive after a hurricane:
      • Keep speeds low. Travel slowly and be extra patient. Intersections may be without lights making driving more dangerous.[4] If you come to an intersection with a traffic light out, treat the intersection as if it were a four-way stop.[5]
      • Watch for fallen objects in the road, downed power lines, and weakened walls, bridges, roads, and sidewalks that might collapse.[6]
      • Never drive over downed power lines or through water that is in contact with them.[7],[8] Even without sparks or fire, a downed line can energize the ground up to 35 feet away and even more in wet conditions.[8]
      • Turn Around Don’t Drown®pdf iconexternal icon if you encounter a flooded road, and stay off bridges over fast-moving water. Twelve inches of moving water can carry off a small car, and 18-24 inches of moving water can carry away larger vehicles such as trucks, vans, and SUVs.[9]
      • Do not drive if you are fatigued. Fatigue impairs your ability to use good judgment when responding to hazards. If your job is to help others cope with the effects of a hurricane, you can’t help them if you don’t get there safely.

The bottom line: Evaluate the need for driving before, during, and immediately after a storm.

Fatigued Driving GIF
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The more hours awake, the more likely you are to be fatigued. Fatigue can impair your driving and other tasks, similar to alcohol impairment. Use NIOSH’s fatigued driving GIF to share the message: Prevent fatigued driving at work.

Automated Vehicles Symposium
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Cosponsored by the Transportation Research Board and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the Automated Vehicles Symposiumexternal icon takes place from July 15-18, 2019, in Orlando. Read the AV issue of our newsletter to learn more about this popular topic.

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Page last reviewed: June 14, 2019