MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY AT WORK
Driver Fatigue on the Job
Put simply, fatigue is the need for sleep. It’s how your body responds to not getting enough sleep or not getting quality sleep. Fatigue impairs your ability to safely perform tasks, including driving. Job-related factors (e.g., long hours of work and driving, long commutes) can contribute to workers’ risk of driver fatigue. The good news: A fatigue risk management system will help employers and workers work together to reduce the risks of driver fatigue.
The more hours awake, the more likely you are to be fatigued. Use our animated image to share the message: Prevent fatigued driving.
- 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 .10.1
- As many as one in five fatal crashes in the general population involve driver fatigue.2
- A survey of the U.S. workforce found that 37% of workers got less than the recommended minimum of 7 hours of sleep.3
- Being awake for many consecutive hours
- Not getting enough sleep over multiple days
- Time of day: Your body has a sleep/wake cycle that tells you when to be alert and when it’s time to sleep. The urge to sleep is the most intense in the early morning hours.
- Monotonous tasks or long periods of inactivity
- Health factors such as sleep disorders or medications that cause drowsiness
- Nodding off
- Reacting more slowly to changing road conditions, other drivers, or pedestrians
- Making poor decisions
- Drifting from your lane
- Experiencing “tunnel vision” (when you lose sense of what’s going on in the periphery)
- Experiencing “microsleeps” (brief sleep episodes lasting from a fraction of a second up to 30 seconds)
- Forgetting the last few miles you drove
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.
- Use a fatigue risk management system (FRMS) to promote alertness among workers, identify fatigue-prone tasks, and lessen fatigue and its potential consequences.4 Here’s what you need to know before starting an FRMS.
- Implement policies that set 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.
- Provide employee training on sleep health and fatigue management.
- Implement a workplace sleep disorder screening/management program.
- 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.
- Train incident investigators to assess the role of fatigue in incidents and near-miss incidents.
- During incident investigations, collect data on sleep history of workers involved, hours worked leading up to the incident, time of day, hours of driving, etc.
- Plan your off-duty activities to allow enough time for adequate sleep.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
NIOSH webpage: Work schedules: Shift work and long hours
NIOSH webpage: Long-Haul Truck Drivers
CDC webpage: Drowsy driving
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
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NIOSH Publication No. 2018-126 (March 2018)
Fact Sheet: Oil and Gas Extraction Employers: How to Prevent Fatigued Driving at Work.
NIOSH Publication No. 2018-125 (March 2018)
The influence of daily sleep patterns of commercial truck drivers on driving performance.
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Quick Sleep Tips for Truck Drivers
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Short sleep duration among workers – United States, 2010.
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Fatigue risk management: organizational factors at the regulatory and industry/company level.
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Overtime and Extended Work Shifts: Recent Findings on Illnesses, Injuries and Health Behaviors.
NIOSH Publication No. 2004-143 (May 2004)
Cross-sectional analysis of sleep-promoting and wake-promoting drug use on health, fatigue-related error, and near-crashes in police officers.
BMJ Open: September 2018 / 8(9):e022041
Implementing a sleep health education and sleep disorders screening program in fire departments: a comparison of methodology.
Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: June 2016 / 58(6):601-609
Hits and misses: screening commercial drivers for obstructive sleep apnea using guidelines recommended by a joint task force.
Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: September 2013 / 55(9):1035-1040
Does the rubber meet the road? Addressing sleep apnea in commercial truck drivers.
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Body Mass Index is an effective measure for occupational screening of employees at high risk for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea: implications for DOT commercial driver medical examinations.
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Sleep disorders, health, and safety in police officers.
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1Dawson D, Reid K . Fatigue, alcohol, and performance impairmentexternal icon. Nature Jul 17;388(6639):235.
2Tefft BC . Prevalence of motor vehicle crashes involving drowsy drivers, United States, 2009-2013pdf iconexternal icon. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
3Shockey TM, Wheaton AG. Short Sleep Duration by Occupation Group — 29 States, 2013–2014. MMWR 2017;66:207–213.
4Lerman SE, et al. . Fatigue risk management in the workplace. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine: 54: 231-258.