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Long Work Hours, Extended or Irregular Shifts, and Worker Fatigue

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Long Work Hours, Extended or Irregular Shifts, and Worker Fatigue Menu


Worker fatigue has been studied in aviation and other modes of transportation, the military, emergency response, healthcare, firefighting, law enforcement and other fields. There are several ways that workers and employers can help reduce the hazards of worker fatigue.

What Can Employers Do?

Employers can reduce the risk of worker fatigue in the workplace by:

  • Examining staffing issues such as workload, work hours, understaffing and worker absences, scheduled and unscheduled, which can contribute to worker fatigue.
  • Arranging schedules to allow frequent opportunities for rest breaks and nighttime sleep.
  • Making adjustments to the work environment such as lighting, temperature and physical surroundings to increase alertness.
  • Providing worker education and training addressing the hazards of worker fatigue, the symptoms of worker fatigue, the impact of fatigue on health and relationships, adequate quality and quantity of sleep and the importance of diet, exercise and stress management strategies to minimize the adverse effects of fatigue.
  • Consider implementing a Fatigue Risk Management Plan under which, like other risk factors, fatigue can be managed.
What is a Fatigue Risk Management Program?
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Several federal agencies and national organizations have developed fatigue risk management program information. Some federal agencies and states have laws restricting the number of hours a worker can be on the job. These resources can assist your company in developing guidelines for work hours and for a Fatigue Risk Management Program.

Fatigue Risk Management Resource Pack. Queensland Health, Brisbane: Queensland, Australia. Supports facilities in incorporating the risk management of fatigue and fatigue-related risks into core business operations.

The Federal Aviation Administration Fatigue Management Toolbox provides fatigue awareness tools, training and education programs, assessment tools and tips for implementing a fatigue management system in the workplace. The toolbox contains colorful downloadable posters to display in the workplace.

The United States Coast Guard Crew Endurance Management Practices Guide outlines a program for controlling risk factors that affect crew member performance and shipboard safety in the commercial maritime industry.

The United States National Response Team Technical Assistance Document designed for disaster workers, includes practical information about incident-specific fatigue management plans to assist organizations to address fatigue issues among disaster workers.

The American Petroleum Institute issued "Fatigue Prevention Guidelines for Personnel in the Refining and Petroleum Industries (Standard RP 755)" in response to the 2005 Texas City BP refinery explosion.

IPIECA (formerly the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association) issued "Managing Fatigue in the Workplace" to assist oil and gas industry supervisors and occupational health practitioners understand, recognize and manage fatigue in the workplace.

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) published "Fatigue Risk Management in the Workplace: 2012 Guidance Statement" to provide background, key concepts and references needed to promote a Fatigue Risk Management System.

What Can Workers Do?

Workers can promote restful, healthy sleep by following sleep hygiene recommendations. Here are some suggestions:

What is healthy sleep?

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  • Make sure that your sleep period is 7-9 hours daily without disruptions.
  • Try to sleep at the same time every day.
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine prior to bedtime to improve sleep quality.
  • If working evening or nights, make sure that sleep has occurred within the last 8 hours before going to work.
  • If napping before work, make sure that the duration is less than 45 minutes or greater than 2 hours to allow for a complete sleep/wake cycle.
  • Make sure that the sleeping environment is comfortable, cool, dark and quiet.
  • Exercise regularly. Eat a balanced diet. Maintain a healthy weight.
  • If you have difficulty sleeping, keep a sleep diary and talk to your doctor.
Additional Information
  • The National Sleep Foundation offers sleep facts and information on sleep-related topics for both the general public and healthcare professionals.
  • Sleep and Health Education Program. Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers' rights?

Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers' rights under the OSH Act.

OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).

Small business employers may contact OSHA's free and confidential On-Site Consultation program to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites and work with OSHA on correcting any identified hazards. Consultants in this program from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs. On-Site Consultation services are separate from enforcement activities and do not result in penalties or citations. To contact OSHA's free consultation service, go to OSHA's On-Site Consultation web page or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.

Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.

If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.

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