Fatigue at work - how the right PPE can help
28 February 2017
Clair Weston, marketing manager at UVEX (UK) examines why fatigue at work - whether physical, mental, or emotional - can be a killer.
Fatigue at work can lead to accidents, ill-health, injury and even death. It has been implicated in major global catastrophes such as the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Clapham Junction rail crash, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Fatigue is also an important element in 20% of accidents on major roads and costs the UK between £115million and £240m per year in terms of work accidents. It can cause both personal and organisational ill health, with a huge impact on employees, productivity and costs.
Employers have a legal duty to manage risks from both short and long term fatigue, and should note that compliance with the Working Time Regulations in restricting shift hours and insisting on regular rest breaks alone is not sufficient to do this. They need to do more.
Fatigue can be defined as the temporary inability to respond to a situation because of mental, emotional or physical over-activity. It is difficult to measure, but employers need to tackle the issue proactively, assessing its extent and impact on the workforce.
At work, fatigue may be caused by many factors, including heat or cold stress, excessive vibration, overexertion, noise, musculoskeletal problems, long or night shifts, or uncomfortable working conditions. Individuals with vital safety responsibilities and those who drive long distances are particularly vulnerable.
Excessive tiredness results mentally in slower reactions, reduced ability to think clearly, process information and make good decisions, forgetfulness, poor communication, stress, anxiety, irritability, depression, hormonal disturbances and underestimation of risk, not surprisingly leading to possible mental breakdown, injuries and accidents with potentially dire consequences.
Added to this list of woes are lost production, increased absenteeism, job dissatisfaction, muscle fatigue, back and neck pain, sleeping disturbances and deprivation. Long-term effects on a worker’s physical and mental health include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders and lower fertility.
How PPE can help
To counteract this, the use of the appropriate PPE all over the body can help reduce the risk and manage the impact of fatigue, keeping the wearer comfortable, alert and productive, improving their health and promoting their wellbeing.
Lightweight, comfortable, breathable, well-fitting and supportive footwear, without pressure points, spreads body weight evenly to reduce back pain and stress and therefore tiredness. This is especially important in jobs where workers stand on their feet all day.
Back pain can be reduced by footwear that allows natural, flowing movement, with innovations such as extra air bubbles in the sole to reduce impact and increase shock absorption. Technological materials such as uvex climazone keep feet at the optimum temperature of 31-32 degrees C, while pivot points minimise strain on joints during repetitive motions. Correct footwear can do a surprising amount, including helping to mitigate the risk of diabetes.
Safety eyewear is equally important. Fatigue and eye strain reduction can be achieved through good quality, optical class 1, panoramic eyewear that does not limit the wearers field of vision. Adjustability allows a customised fit and a combination of soft and hard materials mould to the wearer’s face help too, while prescription safety eyewear or inserts make life easier for those who wear glasses. High-tech, permanent, lens coatings improve vision, reduce distractions and eyestrain, and enable employees to work for longer periods without fatigue or loss of concentration.
As for respiratory protection, heat stress can be counteracted through anatomically-shaped face masks with central exhalation valves, which make breathing easier. The use of thinner membranes in respiratory devices eases air transfer, while good quality materials remove the risk of collapse when inhaling strongly. PPE that perfectly integrates masks and eyewear is also beneficial for maximum efficiency and comfort.
Debilitating stress from noise can be reduced by using comfortable ear plugs or earmuffs. Oval is the best plug shape to match the natural shape of the ear canal, reducing pressure, while less material at the entrance of the ear canal means less pressure while in the ear which over time can become painful. The fit is paramount in reducing noise stress and achieving the optimum product protection.
Finally, the right safety glove can reduce fatigue through efficiency, a perfect fit, and ensuring grip and dexterity without effort. The glove should be durable, breathable and supple. Extra grip coatings ensure the wearer does not overexert themselves by gripping too much – the glove should do most of the work. Gloves in a range of sizes, closely fitting both men and women, allow maximum all-day comfort, dexterity and avoidance of hand fatigue.
Although fatigue can in the workplace can be very dangerous, there is a lot that can be done to manage and mitigate this via the provision of the correct protective equipment for hands, feet, eyes, ears, lungs and body.