In the hours and days immediately before and after Hurricane Harvey, City of Houston employees sprung into action, and ran full speed on adrenaline to meet residents' urgent needs.
From high water rescues and sheltering displaced residents to maintaining clean drinking water, caring for pets, inspecting neighborhoods, operating airports and clearing debris, city employees have worked around the clock, 7 days a week.
It's been a month since the storm brought historic flooding to our city, and by now, that adrenaline is running on empty.
Many employees have returned to regular schedules, while others are just getting started. As the road to recovery continues, employees should take extra precautions to avoid the dangers of fatigue on the job.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
One in 3 in the U.S. Coast Guard who deployed to Hurricane Katrina reported getting 5 hours or less of sleep each night. Researchers noted that this gave them three times the risk for depression; slips, trips, and falls; muscle strain; and dehydration.
- About 20% of all vehicle crashes are from driver fatigue. Workers who are young men, night workers, or who work long hours are at highest risk.
- Working 10-hour shifts increases the risk for accidents and errors by 13%
- Working 12-hour shifts increases the risk for accidents and errors by 28%
- Being awake for 17 hours is similar to having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05% (the level some countries use for drunk driving violations).
- Being awake for 24 hours is similar to having a BAC of 0.10% (above the U.S. drunk driving level of 0.08%).
Identify Responder Fatigue: Know the signs and symptoms:
- Physical signs: yawning; drooping eyelids; eye-rubbing; head dropping; involuntarily falling asleep for a few seconds or longer; slow reaction time, slurred speech, or reduced coordination; blank stare caused by sudden episode of sleep a few seconds long.
- Mental signs: difficulty concentrating, attention lapses, difficulty remembering, less able to learn new facts or motor skills; fatigued or sleepy at inappropriate times; hallucinations.
- Emotional signs: more quiet or withdrawn than usual; lack of energy; lack of motivation, "do not care" attitude; inappropriate emotions such as giggling or laughing in serious situations; irritability, moodiness, anxiety, or confusion.
- Thinking: decreased divergent thinking, innovation, and insight; fixation on ineffective solutions, inability to recognize better alternatives; flawed logic; poor judgment; impaired moral judgment; essential activities neglected as awareness of surroundings and circumstances decreases (may misjudge how much time has passed or may not recognize signs that a situation is deteriorating); lack of awareness of poor performance; poorer risk assessment, increased risk-taking behaviors (drinking, inappropriate drug use, speeding while driving, not using seatbelts).
- Poor communication: misinterpreting written or oral communication; making inappropriate comments.
If you are struggling to stay awake while driving, you are impaired enough to cause an accident. Pull over and rest. No research has shown anything like rolling the window down, turning up the radio, or pinching yourself will keep you alert.
If you have a long commute between the disaster site and the place where you sleep, take extra precautions: drive with another person, take a nap, or consume caffeine prior to the commute.
Read more from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health
Want to report an employee safety hazard, serious inquiries, or have workers' compensation questions?