Last month in Seattle the National Safety Council’s Campbell Institute held a conference where one of the major topics was, “Fatigue: Managing the Hidden Risk.” My question: What’s so “hidden” about fatigue? Everyone you talk to in today’s 24/7 wired world is fatigued, tired, beat. Just ask them.

“Why am I so tired all the time?”

“I’m not up for seeing a movie tonight, I’m just feeling tired.”

“My kids are wearing me out. Chasing ‘em all day.”

“I’m flying down to Bogota for training our call center. Just one night there. Crazy”

“I’ve gotta have two jobs to make ends meet. Sleep? What’s that?”

The new norm

One in five adults say symptoms of fatigue interfere with their everyday lives, according to the National Institutes of Health. The percentage is probably higher. Statistics are all over the board. One survey finds only one in seven people wake up feeling fresh every day of the week. Almost everyone – 97 percent – reports having at least one of the risk factors for fatigue, according to a National Safety Council survey. Chronic stress, lack of sleep, overlapping commitments, long work hours and everyday hustle / bustle can all contribute to fatigue.

Check out this headline from the Chicago Tribune: “Everybody is exhausted: Stress and social media are taking their toll.”

The article quotes a woman: “I used to have tons of energy. I know you slow down with age, but I’m physically exhausted all the time. And I know I’m not the only person who feels this way.”

Fatigue, feeling worn out, seems to be the new norm for a growing number of people, regardless of their age, according to the article. Causes can be medical: sleep apnea and illnesses such as anemia, depression, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and heart disease among the underlying medical conditions. Experts say fatigue is extreme tiredness due to physical or mental stress or an illness. It’s not that you don’t feel up to seeing a movie tonight; you can’t go today, tomorrow, and maybe not for a week or a month. Get yourself evaluated by a physician if fatigue is not relieved by proper sleep, good nutrition or decreased stress.

Check yourself out

You can measure your own vulnerability to fatigue. Risk factors include: working nights or early mornings; working long shifts without regular work breaks; working more than 50 hours every week; and enduring long commutes. Or you don’t get enough exercise, working out. You’re not drinking enough water. Dehydration can be directly linked to fatigue. You don’t consume enough iron, which can cause less oxygen to reach your muscles and cells in your body. Maybe you worry too much. Or you blow off breakfast. Or eat too much junk food. You can’t say “no” and take on too many responsibilities.

You find it irresistible to check your emails, text messages and social media accounts one more time before hitting the sack.

Beware of the consequences

Of course all of these contributing factors increase the risk of injuries and accidents. Check out OSHA’s website topic page on worker fatigue. Accident and injury rates are 18 percent greater during evening shifts and 30 percent greater during night shifts when compared to day shifts, according to OSHA. Research indicated that working 12 hours per day is associated with a 37 percent increased risk of injury.

Decreased alertness from worker fatigue has been a contributing factor in industrial disasters such as the 2005 Texas City BP oil refinery explosion, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, according to OSHA. Among healthcare workers, fatigue can result in errors in patient care, increased needlesticks and exposure to blood and other bodily fluids and increased occupational injuries.

Healthcare workers certainly aren’t alone in paying for the consequences of fatigue. Irregular and extended shifts are common among transportation workers (truckers, delivery drivers), first responders, firefighters, military personnel, construction workers, oil field workers, service and hospitality works, and millions more.

Many of these jobs are high-risk occupations where weariness, sleepiness, irritability, reduced alertness, impaired decision-making and lack of motivation, concentration and memory can lead to vehicle crashes; slips, trips and falls; getting caught in machinery; not operating machinery correctly; and falling behind on the assembly line.

Fighting fatigue

How do you fight fatigue and avoid these traps? It comes down to your lifestyle choices in many respects. Take breaks from the computer and social media. Take a yoga class or try mindful meditation. Say “no.” Stay hydrated. Lay off the caffeine. Take a brisk walk every day. Work out. Don’t eat so much you feel sluggo. Watch out for a sugar crash. More than 29 billion gallons of energy drink liquid is consumed by Americans every year. What does that say about our fatigue epidemic?

One of the most important fatigue traps to recognize is complacency – taking for granted that feeling tired is just the way it is; thinking, “Oh, I’m no different, everyone is tired these days.” “Man I’m tired today,” is such a common complaint we get inured to it. Don’t get used to the new norm.


—  Dave Johnson, ISHN Editor,