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Beware workers' 'mid-afternoon dip,' safety adviser warns

Beware workers' 'mid-afternoon dip,' safety adviser warns

ORLANDO, Fla. — Employers with workers in high-risk positions should beware of the “mid-afternoon dip,” when workers are prone to falling asleep on the job, a speaker at the American Association of Safety Engineers' Safety 2014 conference in Orlando said Wednesday.

Sleep deprivation makes workers more susceptible to work-related injuries, negatively impacts return-to-work timelines for workers compensation claims, and increases the likelihood of getting killed in a work-related accident, said Kurt VonRueden, a loss control specialist and safety adviser with Meadowbrook Insurance Group in Bloomington, Minnesota.

He said the time immediately following lunch, also called the “mid-afternoon dip,” is when some workers are most at-risk.

“If you have employees that have safety-sensitive positions or positions that are exposed to some high hazards, if you could schedule it so they're not doing those tasks during the mid-afternoon dip, that would be ideal,” Mr. VonRueden said. “Or if you have employees that have really repetitious jobs … switch it and have them do something else” during that time to avoid accidents brought on by fatigue and complacency.

“There's a direct correlation between sleep deprivation and risk-taking behavior,” he said.

Highly fatigued workers are 75% more likely to be involved in an accident and nearly twice as likely to be killed in a work-related accident, Mr. VonRueden said, citing the National Sleep Foundation.

Sleep-related fatigue costs are estimated at $150 billion each year from absenteeism, workplace accidents and lost productivity, he added.

Sleeping even one hour less a night can make a difference, Mr. VonRueden said, citing a University of British Columbia study about the effect daylight saving time had on different types of accidents in Canada — including traffic and workplace accidents.

The study found that there's a 5% to 7% increase in accidental deaths during the three days following daylight saving time in spring. And setting the clock back one hour in fall doesn't mean there's a decrease in accidental deaths because people don't necessarily use the additional hour for sleep, according to the report.

Mr. VonRueden said sleep deprivation doesn't just affect workers prior to an injury. It also has a profound impact on how soon employees can return-to-work after an accident, he added.

“Sleep promotes muscle tissue growth, which, on the workers compensation side, that is … helping the injured employee back to work as soon as possible,” Mr. VonRueden said. “People who are getting adequate sleep have faster recovery times from their injuries, and they can get back to work sooner.”