Drowsy Driving Prevention Week (November 6-13, 2022) is a good time to take stock of what your organization is doing to manage the risks for its employees.
A worker’s commute home after a shift can be the most dangerous part of a shift worker’s day. Drowsy employees, whether they are night shift workers or workers with long hours, high amounts of overtime, double shifts, or 24-hour on-call shifts are at an increased risk of experiencing a motor vehicle accident on their way home from work.
Research shows that drowsy driving has similar safety risks as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. And the statistics are staggering:
- People who drive drowsy are three times more likely to cause a crash than those who are well-rested.
- It’s been estimated that up to 20% of all motor vehicle crashes and 6,400 deaths in the United States are caused by a drowsy driver.
- Corporations pay a significant portion of the billions of dollars that these accidents cost and are left to manage the associated absences and lost productivity, too.
And night shift workers commuting home are not the only workers at risk. Drowsiness and fatigue are key risk factors during work shifts for commercial vehicle drivers, train operators, and other workers in the transportation industry. And equipment operators in the mining sector, and airline ground operations, among other industries, are also vulnerable to drowsy driving incidents.
Drowsy Driving Risk Factors for Shift Workers
There are three key risk factors that interact to make driving potentially dangerous due to fatigue:
- Insufficient Sleep: More than 35% of Americans do not get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep a day. Being sleep deprived is a major risk factor for drowsy driving. Night shift workers generally get less sleep per day than 9-to-5 workers and working long or double shifts or high amounts of overtime results in reduced sleep opportunities.
- Extended Time Awake: Being awake for longer than 16 or 17 hours is a risk factor for drowsy driving. A worker who sleeps until 1:00 PM and ends a shift at 7:00 AM is driving home after being awake for 18 hours, substantially longer than someone who wakes up at 6:00 AM and drives home at 5:00 PM (11 hours). Someone who is awake for 18 hours has similar neurocognitive deficits as someone with a blood alcohol content of 05%.
- Circadian Time of Day: An individual’s level of alertness and sleepiness varies over the course of the day. Studies show that our greatest sleepiness typically occurs in the early hours of the morning which corresponds with most fatigue-related crashes occurring between midnight and 6:00 AM.
Defeating Drowsy Driving
Drowsy driving is a major, but preventable, safety risk.
Employees and employers have a shared responsibility to manage drowsy driving. Employers, especially extended-hours operations, need to be extremely wary of the safety concerns associated with their employees driving fatigued.
While getting enough sleep is the most effective way to prevent drowsy driving (employee responsibility), there are some basic strategies employers can use to mitigate the fatigue risks for the employees commuting home after a night, long, overtime, or double shift, including:
- Sleep and Fatigue Management Training & Education: Offer sleep and fatigue management training and education programs that present strategies designed to optimize sleep, teach good sleep hygiene, and illustrate the importance of good sleep. The more your employees know the more they can do to make sure they avoid the risks of fatigue.
- Adopt a culture that embraces the importance of sleep: Adopting programs and policies (e.g., Fatigue Risk Management System) that focus on fatigue management such as discouraging employees from sacrificing sleep for overtime shifts or other work-related activities by providing work hour limits and rest minimums will not only reduce the number of fatigued employees but it helps to create an environment that enables workers to communicate freely whenever they are too fatigued to drive.
- Transportation Alternatives: Providing transportation alternatives for employees’ commutes home can range from offering a third-party ride-share program or shuttle service to providing a platform for online carpool opportunity groups.
Drowsy driving has been identified as a serious public safety threat for over a decade. And still, nearly two-thirds of all American drivers continue to drive while so tired they have had a hard time keeping their eyes open.
What is your company doing to manage the risks of drowsy driving for your workers?
Give us a call to discuss how we can support your efforts! As the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions, CIRCADIAN is uniquely qualified to design and implement fatigue-mitigating strategies that are customized for your workforce.