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Don’t ignore safety risks of on-the-job fatigue: NSC

fatigued worker

To reduce workplace injuries companies should tackle on-the-job fatigue, experts said Wednesday at the virtual 2021 National Safety Council Safety Congress & Expo

When most people think about impairment, they focus on substance abuse rather than fatigue, said Claire Stroer, impairment program manager for the National Safety Council, during an educational session.

The NSC recently redefined its definition of impairment to include the impact of fatigue on workplace safety, with a recent survey conducted by the Itasca, Illinois-based council showing that 13% of work injuries are attributed to fatigue and that 77% of employers have expressed concern about fatigue’s impact on their workforce’s fitness for duty.

“It’s a complex issue. When we do measure alertness … at what point do we take action?” said Daniel Mollicone, Seattle-based CEO of Pulsar Informatics Inc., which has created psychomotor tests for the aviation and transportation industries to help employers identify fitness for duty deficits. “(Fatigue) is a risk factor that isn’t fully visible.”

While employers might have an impression there is a risk of impairment from fatigue among employees, there haven’t been systems to quantitatively monitor for it, as compared with substance abuse, he said.

Joe Gallagher, director of health, safety and environmental quality for PHI Health LLC, part of Phoenix-based PHI Air Medical LLC, an air ambulance provider, said fatigue is a difficult issue to address in a 24/7 operation.

“We know with our clinician schedules … that they were facing fatigue,” he said. “Pilots were working 12-hour shifts, and we knew they were working against their circadian clocks. That’s what made us start to reach out and look for solutions when it came to fatigue.”

The company created a fatigue working group to come up with ways to ensure fitness for duty and identify impairments that could be caused by fatigue. PHI eventually settled on the psychomotor vigilance test offered by Pulsar to identify signs of fatigue in pilots, mechanics and clinicians, launching the program in January 2019.

PHI now requires those workers to take the one-minute test, which measures alertness with a quantitative result, at the start of each shift on their iPads or smartphones. Any worker who scores higher than 12 on the alertness test is required to retake the test and then, if they fail again, take a one-hour nap, Mr. Gallagher said.

“When an individual is doing poorly on (a psychomotor vigilance test), their performance at their task is also compromised. … Errors of omission go way up,” Mr. Mollicone said. “When measuring alertness (the test) is looking for millisecond rate changes to your alertness pattern.”

While the program is still too new to have data on injury rates, PHI has seen a reduced need for interventions due to an unacceptably high score. With the additional pressures of COVID-19, the test has become even more important, Mr. Gallagher said.

“When you have back-to-back flights, get into (personal protective equipment), get to the hospital, transport the patient, have to take off PPE, decontaminate the aircraft — that takes a lot of time,” he said. “We were getting a lot of fatigue from that. They understand why the need to do this.”

More insurance and workers compensation news on the coronavirus crisis here.




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