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Study: lack of sleep found to increase risk of workplace injuries

Researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health confirm that workers who don't get enough sleep are at a higher risk of injuries on the job, yet the number of hours a night the average American sleeps has been shrinking. The issue is significant enough that scientists from NIOSH joined others from the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health and the University of Pennsylvania recently held a Twitter chat to discuss it.

"When the day is too full to fit in work and everything else, people often cut their sleep," commented one participant, and that seems to be the case. According to the scientists, the percentage of U.S. workers in the civilian sector who report getting six or fewer hours of sleep a night has been growing over the past few decades. In the 80s, 24 percent of workers said they slept less than six hours in 24. A similar study in the 2000s found that number had grown to 30 percent.

Yet six hours of sleep in every 24 hours isn't sufficient, experts say, and insufficient sleep has been tied to increased workplace injury rates and associated workers ' comp claims, It's also associated with higher error rates, reduced productivity, greater absenteeism and workplace attrition -- sometimes caused by disability.

NIOSH is developing new recommendations and training to educate both employers and employees on scheduling and workplace practices that encourage employees to sleep enough.

For example, while either five eight-hour shifts or four ten-hour shifts a week are OK for most people, 12-hour shifts are only appropriate for less-demanding work and when scheduled so workers get more frequent days off.

Other scheduling recommendations from NIOSH include:

  • Schedules should provide at least 10 consecutive hours of time off every day.
  • After five eight-hour shifts or four ten-hour shifts, workers should have one to two full rest days. After three consecutive 12-hour shifts, two full days off are recommended.
  • Night shifts should be no longer than eight hours.
  • For heavy work, employers should provide more frequent, shorter breaks rather than fewer, longer ones. However, meal breaks should be longer.
  • If a workplace accident is only narrowly avoided, employers should evaluate whether fatigue caused or contributed to the near-miss.

If you've been hurt at work, do you think insufficient sleep was a factor?

Source: R&I magazine's WorkersComp Forum, "Researchers advise employers to focus on getting enough sleep," Nancy Grover, Dec. 2, 2013

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