Fatigue can result when you do not get enough sleep or do not get quality sleep. It can impair your driving, similar to alcohol impairment. A survey of the U.S population found that 37% of workers got less than the recommended minimum of 7 hours of sleep.
NIOSH conducts research and makes recommendations to help employers and workers prevent motor vehicle crashes caused by fatigued driving. Maintaining good sleep habits is important to your health and safety, on and off the job. If your job involves long hours of work or driving, shiftwork, or a long commute, you may be at increased risk of fatigue at work, including driver fatigue.
What causes fatigue?
- 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
What are the effects of driver fatigue?
- 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
What can employers and workers do to prevent driver fatigue on the job?
- Implement policies that set overtime limits and maximum allowable consecutive shifts.
- Ensure sufficient staffing levels across operations.
- Provide employee training on sleep health and fatigue management.
- Implement a workplace sleep disorder screening and 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 systems to detect signs of possible fatigue episodes, such as lane departures.
- Consider using wearables such as an instrumented wristband to monitor driver fatigue.
- Train incident investigators to assess the role of fatigue in incidents and near-miss incidents.
- Get enough sleep (7-9 hours each day). If fatigue persists after adequate sleep, get screened for health problems that may be affecting your sleep.
- Plan your activities outside work to allow enough time for adequate 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 co-workers for signs of fatigue.
- 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.
The bottom line:
No amount of experience, motivation, or professionalism can overcome your body’s biological need to sleep. Employers and workers can take steps to prevent the chain of events that could lead to a fatigue-related crash. Employers, learn more about starting a fatigue risk management system.
NIOSH webpage: Driver Fatigue on the Job
National Sleep Foundation webpage: Drowsy Driving
National Transportation Safety Board fact sheet: Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents
National Safety Council webpage: Fatigue – You’re More Than Just Tired
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration webpage: Drowsy Driving