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


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?
air traffic controller - Photo Credit: iStock

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.

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?

man sleeping - Photo Credit: iStock
  • 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.