Just How Sleepy Are You?
Did you get adequate sleep last night?
Did you drink alcohol heavily before going to bed last night?
How long is your shift today?
How is your general health?
Have you been up extended hours over a number of days?
Knowledge about sleep and fatigue is poor among both men and women, regardless of age group, education or occupation, and the lack of understanding is literally killing us.
Fatigue is defined as physical or mental weariness, a temporary decrease in capacity to operate or function after excess activity. Some refer to fatigue as a state of being tired.
The physical signs of fatigue will vary from one person to another but generally can include tiredness, sleepiness (falling asleep when not wanting to—micro sleeps), irritability, depression, giddiness, loss of appetite, digestive problems and increased frequency of illness.
Fatigue may also impair your ability to perform mental or physical tasks. The impairments can take the form of slowed reactions, failure to respond to visual or mental stimuli, incorrect physical or mental actions, flawed logic or judgment, inability to concentrate, loss of memory, decrease in vigilance, reduced motivation, and the worst of all from my perspective, an increased tendency for risk-taking.
Take a brief moment to look back over these signs of fatigue and the associated impairments. Then think of a fatigued worker carrying out jobs in our industry such as loading holes in seismic, drilling into the formation, perforating, snubbing or hauling your equipment and supplies on the open road. Wherever you look in our industry, the term “safety-sensitive position” springs to mind and the impact of fatigue on safety looms large.
We have all experienced some degree of sleep loss and its effect on our ability to function. This varies from person to person, but research shows that the average worker requires between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep per day. Anything less creates a sleep debt situation, and sleep debt is cumulative. Just like our financial situation, sleep debt can be paid back over time, but unlike finances, sleep cannot be saved up for a rainy day.
Even modest amounts of daily sleep loss—one hour a night—will increase a worker’s tendency to fall asleep. Most workers can resist the tendency, but in the right (or wrong) circumstances a worker could nod off with disastrous results. In cases of severe sleep deprivation a worker can, against his/her best efforts, lapse into micro sleeps. These very short periods of involuntary sleep are, in reality, an accident looking for a place to happen. In those workplaces where sustained attention is necessary for safety, research has shown that the probability of an incident occurring rises and falls with the tendency to fall asleep. The poorest job performance consistently occurs on the night shift and the highest rate of industrial incidents is found among shift workers. Catastrophic incidents do not happen randomly throughout the day—they are more likely to occur when workers are most prone to sleep, between midnight and 6 AM and between 1 and 3 PM.
Extended hours of being awake or at work can lead to fatigue. It is a problem that cannot be dismissed on the basis of “a personal problem” that the worker must deal with alone. A worker completing a 16-hour shift has been up longer than that. Testing has indicated that an individual who has been awake for 17 hours has the same impairment as someone with a blood alcohol level of .05 or more than 60% of the way to being legally impaired to operate a motor vehicle. Keep that in mind when scheduling consecutive long shifts with travel time at both ends. What quality of work can you expect and what risks are you exposing your co-workers to?