Worker Fatigue: Excess Costs & the Iceberg Effect

Worker fatigue may be an issue in your operation – whether you're aware of  it or not.

One-third (33%) of workforce managers believe that fatigue is a moderate or severe problem among their workers.1

However, managing the risks associated with fatigue can be challenging. Serious concerns arise when workers don’t obtain sufficient rest between shifts, which can be due to worker’s behavioral choices, underlying sleep disorders and also due to management decisions (e.g. work schedules and staffing levels).

To some, fatigue might seem like a minor concern, yet it costs companies millions of dollars each year in excess costs, accidents and errors.

Fatigued workers cost employers $136.4 billion annually in health-related lost productive time (absenteeism and presenteeism), almost 4x more than their non-fatigued counterparts.2

Below are six types of excess costs to an operation that are often inflated by the repercussions of worker fatigue. If you are struggling to reduce these operational costs, you may be experiencing the “Iceberg Effect” of fatigue.

Worker Fatigue Iceberg

1. Absenteeism

Absenteeism alone accou

nts for as much as $2,660 in additional costs per year for shift workers as compared to day workers.1

According to 2014 Shiftwork Practices data, only 50% of absences are due to personal illness and family issues, and almost 25% of absences are due to stress and feelings of entitlement.3

2. Compliance-related violations

Sleep deprived individuals have been shown to have trouble with maintaining focus, keeping track of events, maintaining interest in outcomes and attending to activities judged to be non-essential.4

In fact, research suggests that there is a interaction between sleep deprivation and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in which sleep deprivation exacerbates the symptoms of ADHD.5

This means that workers are at a much greater risk of having an oversight that could result in a compliance violation.

3. Lost Productivity

 When sleep deprived, individuals experience performance degradations such as: increased exerted effort to complete tasks, decreased vigilance and slower response time. The average functional level of any sleep deprived individual is comparable to the 9th percentile of non-sleep deprived individuals.4

What is the cost of this lowered productivity? The total annual cost of lost productive time attributed to fatigue in the U.S. workforce has been estimated at $330 million, with 84% of this lost productive time due to reduced performance at work, as opposed to absenteeism.2

4. Increased Errors

When sleep deprived or fatigued, cognitive declines increase concurrently with a worker’s time on a given task, resulting in an increased number of errors. These errors include mistakes of both commission (i.e. performing an act that leads to harm) and omission (i.e. not performing an expected task), which can be disaster for any operation.4

Because of the cognitive slowing that occurs when tired, errors are especially likely in individual-paced and time-sensitive tasks.4

5. Overtime

When absenteeism rates are high, relief coverage is necessary to cover shifts. This means that other workers are required to work substantial amounts of overtime to cover the vacant positions.

Also, there is a vicious cycle between overtime and fatigue. As overtime increases, the fatigue levels rise among workers and the likelihood of a fatigue-related accident increases dramatically.

6. Accidents

Compared to day workers, night workers make five times more serious mistakes and are 20% more likely to suffer a severe work-related accident.6

The Flawed Mentality

Similar to the flawed mentality that the Titanic was an unsinkable ship, many managers consider their successful operations to be unstoppable as well. However, history tells a different story.

History tells the unfortunate tale of the many operations that chose to ignore worker fatigue and suffered loss of life, sky-high costs and catastrophic destruction – as was the case in infamous 1986 Chernobyl disaster, where control room operators working long hours at night to meet a deadline made disastrous decisions.


Image from

Fatigue-related error was deemed a contributing factor to the 1986 Chernobyl Disaster.

Solution: Fatigue Risk Management Systems

A fatigue risk management system (FRMS) is a data-driven, risk-informed, safety performance-based program that reduces the risk of fatigue-related incidents in 24/7 operations. An FRMS continually monitors and reduces the risk for fatigue-related accidents.

Fatigue risk management systems (FRMS) fit within an organization’s overall health and safety program and are now the globally-accepted standard for managing the risk of employee fatigue in safety-sensitive businesses.

Download Our Free White Paper!

To learn more about fatigue and its impact on 24/7 operations, download our FREE white paper:

The Myths & Realities of Fatigue

Reducing the Costs, Risks, and Liabilities of Fatigue in 24-Hour Operations
Myths & Realities of Fatigue White Paper
FREE White Paper Download

CIRCADIAN® FRMS and 24/7 Workforce Solutions

 CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock.  Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research and technology, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations in the 24-hour economy optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of their extended hours operations.


  1. CIRCADIAN (2007). Shiftwork Practices 2007.
  2. Ricci, J. A., Chee, E., Lorandeau, A. L., & Berger, J. (2007). Fatigue in the US workforce: prevalence and implications for lost productive work time. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 49(1), 1-10.
  3. CIRCADIAN (2014). Shiftwork Practices 2014.
  4. Durmer, J. S., & Dinges, D. F. (2005, March). Neurocognitive consequences of sleep deprivation. In Seminars in neurology (Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 117-129).
  5. Owens, J. A. (2005). The ADHD and sleep conundrum: a review. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 26(4), 312-322.
  6. Moore-Ede, M. C. (1993). The twenty-four-hour society: understanding human limits in a world that never stops. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.




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