From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

First Responders Suffering From Fatigue

Budget cuts, increased work loads and staff shortages could be leaving America’s local safety personnel working with the effects of fatigue.

According to a report on MSNBC, some safety personnel, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics, often termed “first responders,” are reporting symptoms of fatigue after regularly logging in longer shifts and work weeks.

Fatigue and sleep deprivation can result in impaired physical and mental conditions that have been likened to alcohol consumption. A study in New Zealand once equated working on fewer than six hours of sleep to having a blood alcohol level of .05 percent.

Tasks like driving and decision making can be affected by fatigue. Experts warned that people who were suffering from fatigue may not realize that their own actions are being impaired.

Bryan Vila, author of a book on police and fatigue, told MSNBC, “We know that when you’re extra tired it diminishes your ability to be alert to the environment around you. . .[and it] diminishes your performance overall, your hand-eye coordination or ability to interpret what’s going on around you and make sound decisions based on that. It also affects your mood. Tired cops tend to get cranky just like the rest of us.”

Some professions are working to relieve work-related fatigue. Medical residents, for example, will see restrictions on the number of hours they can be on duty beginning in July, 2003. New rules governing residents’ shifts include 80-hour work weeks (down from 100+ hour weeks) and a minimum of 10 hours rest between shifts. The trucking industry is also facing potential hours-worked limits, with the Department of Transportation scheduled to make a final regulation by May 31.

Fatigue may also present problems ranging from performance and attention issues to safety and productivity concerns for workers who regularly travel across time zones for their jobs. For an in-depth look at travel-related ergonomics, see the upcoming May, 2003 issue of The Ergonomics Report.