Fatigue in the workplace costs American industry at least $77 billion every year in incidents, injuries and health problems, according to the National Sleep Foundation's annual poll on sleep (or the lack of it) in America.

Employee fatigue has been linked to many notorious safety incidents - the Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island - and up to 25 percent of all highway crashes, explains Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, president and CEO of Circadian Technologies, Inc. (CTI).

More than 45 percent of companies with round-the-clock operations view risks associated with fatigue as severe to moderate, according to CTI's annual Shiftwork Practices Survey. Operations managers believe employee fatigue directly causes at least 18 percent of all incidents and injuries in their facilities.

Most Americans favor increased regulation of the number of hours worked by employees in demanding professions such as doctors, nurses, pilots and truck drivers, according to the NSF poll.

Here's what companies can do:

  • Conduct studies to determine which work schedules are least fatiguing and ensure the highest levels of performance and safety.
  • Educate employees on how to reduce risks associated with managing their lives around their work schedules.
  • Perform periodic health and safety assessments of employees in order to implement programs to control risks from human factors.
  • Measure employee fatigue levels while on-duty, and provide an alternative framework to hours of service regulations.

The results of CTI's Shiftwork Practices Survey can be found on the publication section of CTI's Web site at www.circadian.com.