Avoid Worker Fatigue with Intelligent Scheduling

August 28, 2019 | 1,088 views

Avoid Worker Fatigue with Intelligent Scheduling
Avoid Worker Fatigue with Intelligent Scheduling

The dangers of worker fatigue are very real. About 1/3 of the workforce works in shifts, many with rotating schedules. Nearly any location open 24 hours each day will rotate workers as needed to cover specialties and production for round-the-clock operations. Hospitals, police and fire, and manufacturing sites all need to schedule workers at non-traditional hours.

However, disrupting the body’s natural sleep patterns and circadian rhythms can wreak havoc on worker performance due to fatigue. Fatigue will certainly be caused by inadequate sleep, but scheduling shifts thoughtfully can help avoid worker fatigue and protect the company from accidents and workers’ compensation claims.

What Does Fatigue Look Like?

A fatigued worker shows lower performance in various ways: poor decision-making or planning, reduced attention and reaction time, difficulty in recalling details, and a lower capacity to handle stressful situations or changing conditions.

The effect of these symptoms can be as minor as slowed production times or as serious as an injury caused by inattentiveness to detail. To keep safety a top priority, managers can implement various techniques to keep workers rested and attentive on the job:

Scheduling Techniques to Reduce Fatigue

  1. Create schedules that allow personal time. Long hours and overtime may be necessary at times, but everyone needs time to eat, commute, socialize, and relax. Family demands and childcare needs may mean that a shift can start at a slightly different time to allow for more sleep.
  2. Flex start and end times around rush hours. Driving in traffic any more than necessary can be very dangerous. Accident rates go up significantly after long shifts, and it can be avoided with fewer hours on the road.
  3. Avoid consecutive night shifts and minimize them altogether. Most people never grow accustomed to night shifts because on their days off, they usually follow a daytime wake cycle.
  4. If a worker must go between shifting schedules, allow at least 48 hours between the changes so they can mentally and physically prepare. If you must change shifts, move forward on the clock from daytime to swing shift to night time; this works better with the body’s natural rhythms.
  5. Spread out work shifts over many days rather than week-long work schedules followed by multiple days off. These long hours are not usually as productive due to fatigue, so avoid long shifts, several days of consecutive shifts, and scheduled overtime. These long hours cost you more in labor anyway, and increase the risk of injuries on the job.
  6. Schedule rest breaks, especially for labor-intensive jobs. Incorporating regular and frequent breaks helps reduce muscle fatigue. A few minutes at rest will make the other minutes more productive and safer.

While consistency is easier for employees to adopt, there are times when shifts must change. With a few tips, managers can schedule intelligently and reduce fatigue and its negative impact.

Author Profile Jon Forknell is the Vice President and General Manager of Atlas Business Solutions, Inc., a software marketing company specializing in employee scheduling software, including ScheduleBase employee scheduling software, and other business software solutions. In the past, Jon has been recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration as a SBA Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Atlas Business Solutions was named as one of Software Magazine’s Top 500 Software Companies in 2004 through 2007, and 2010, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018.   

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