Tiredeness Kills

November 6, 2020

The impact of sleep, or actually lack of it, can have serious implications on the way we work and function – worse it can actually be a killer if it so impacts that we are unable to do our job properly or for example, fall asleep at the wheel of a vehicle.

According to the Health & Safety Executive, not only does fatigue result in “slower reactions, reduced ability to process information, memory lapses, absent-mindedness, decreased awareness, lack of attention, underestimation of risk and reduced coordination etc.,” it can also lead to errors and accidents, ill-health and injury, and reduced productivity. It has been estimated that tiredenss has contributed to some 20% of accidents on major roads and is said to cost the UK £115 – £240 million per year in terms of work accidents alone. In 2015, according to ROSPA, there were 629 fatalities between the hours of 19.00 and 06.00hrs and total injuries and fatalities were 41,285. Facts like this are a wake up call!

The solution is simple – “Take a break”, but how seriously do we take this advice? Sadly, not very seriously, I fear. Studies have shown that the optimum amount of sleep required for a healthy life is about 7 hours, but week after week the professionals in our industry wake up on a Monday morning, earlier than the crack of dawn, with 2, 3, or even a 4-hour journey ahead of them, just to arrive on site for a 7am start.

Anecdotal evidence shows that many of the men and women engaged in construction actually travel to site the night before and sleep in the car until it is time to start work. I know this to be true because I have witnessed it myself on several occasions. I know, it’s crazy isn’t it?!

Evidence shows that we are most vulnerable on the roads at night, visibility is reduced, it is more difficult to see other road users, there is the glare of oncoming traffic, which affects vision and is known to impair sight for seconds after. Yes, those few seconds may be crucial. If you drive when you would normally be asleep, then you are very likely to fall asleep at the wheel or at the very least be less than 100% capable of driving, yet despite the risks, our dedicated people are praised for their commitment and fortitude for getting to work early. The irony must be recognised.

That ‘fortitude and commitment’ is of course only praised until the day that someone tragically dies or is seriously injured. What cost a pile, anchor, or borehole inspection then?

The rhetoric is ‘well it was bound to happen getting up at that time and driving through the night,’ so what can you expect? Well, indirectly we have asked him or her to do it, yet we continue to tell be people to be safe and to go home to their family at the end of the day unhurt.

It’s time for a change!!!

It will cost a little extra money; it may require additional resources, but it’s got to be worth it. Let’s stop asking people to travel for four hours on a Monday morning, to begin a 10-12 hour shift at 07.00, and expecting them to take on board the details of an on-site briefing and make safe decisions during the day.

If people do have to travel because of their circumstances, COVID-19 for instance, then let’s not ask them to do the full shift. If their day begins at 3am, then 10 hours later at 13.00hrs, their working day must end. They should go to their digs to relax, and sleep for at least for those necessary 7 hours. The same should happen on a Friday or whenever the week ends; the shift should include the journey time to home.

This still is not the ideal, but I believe that it’s a workable solution.

The human body works to Circadian Rhythm, which means that since we were grubbing around in caves as Neanderthals, we wake when it is light and sleep when it is dark. It is therefore unnatural to be driving and working at night and countless studies have shown that bucking this trend is unhealthy. Driving and working when tired is not only unhealthy, it is positively dangerous.

Of course change talks effort, and for everyone in the management chain to buy-in to the issues and look to the solutions, but until we all become enlightened, all I can offer is advice – if driving at night is unavoidable, plan your journey, share the driving with a mate, keep hydrated, drink coffee and if you feel tired, TAKE A BREAK.

Author: BDA Safety Subcommittee

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