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Exhausted Workers and Workplace Accidents

Americans drink approximately 400 million cups of coffee every day, an amount that works out to 3.1 cups per person. Many of those cups are consumed while weary workers try to clear their cobwebs and head to their employment each morning. Others drink coffee to overcome the sluggish feeling and nodding heads that hit mid-afternoon. As for those who work irregular or nighttime hours — some of them need to be constantly caffeinated just to get through their shifts.

Why do we need all this caffeine?

As a nation, we are simply…tired. The American Sleep Association estimates that sleep-related problems affect 50-70 million Americans, and the CDC reports that one-third of all adults do not get enough sleep on a regular basis. This is more than an inconvenience or an excuse to stop by the coffee shop or Coke machine frequently; it is quite dangerous and can actually be deadly.

Why is the lack of sleep so prevalent in our country?

The lack of sleep is partially due to the American work culture, where it can sometimes be considered weak to need time off or to sleep. For example:

  • In 2015, Americans worked an average of 1,790 hours a year, in contrast to 1,482 hours for French workers (OECD).
  • European workers tend to get (and take) 4-5 weeks of paid vacation per year, while Americans average 2 weeks of paid vacation. Furthermore, only 73% of Americans use their entire vacation time.
  • Americans also tend to have shorter breaks and lunches at work than Europeans.

Why is it dangerous to have exhausted workers?

  • Tired workers are more likely to make mistakes.
  • The NSC (National Safety Council) warns that 13% of workplace accidents can be attributed to lack of sleep.
  • Accidents and injury rates are 18% higher during evening shifts and 30% higher during night shifts, according to OSHA.
  • Safety risks are twice as high in 12-hour shifts as 8-hour shifts.
  • Injury risks increase the more hours worked per week.
  • Workers on rotating or irregular shifts are particularly at risk of making mistakes because they can’t adjust to regular sleep patterns.

Fatigue doesn’t just affect workers on work premises

Fatigue is dangerous for workers who drive, both those who drive as part of their job and those who commute to work. Consider these facts:

  • The average American drives 16 miles to and from work; that’s an average of 26 minutes each way.
  • People are three times as likely to be in a car crash if they are tired.
  • The effect of losing 2 hours of sleep is equivalent to the effect of drinking 3 beers.
  • More than 16% of fatal crashes involve sleep-deprived drivers.
  • The number one cause of all work-related fatalities is motor vehicle crashes.
  • Between 2003 and 2018, more than 29,000 workers died in work-related crashes.

What can be done about this problem?

Since the link between exhausted workers and work-related accidents has been so thoroughly researched and proven, the next step is for government agencies to put regulations in place to improve the issue. In fact, they have already done this in many cases but realize that there is more work to do.

Regulations in place now:

The Department of Transportation regulates commercial motor vehicle drivers with Hours of Service Regulations. These apply to drivers of any vehicle either weighing over 10,000 pounds or transporting hazardous materials.

You can find more detailed information on FMCSA’s page, but in general, the regulations limit the number of hours truckers can drive in a 24 hour period. For example:

  • Drivers can drive for a maximum of 11 hours after 10 hours off duty.
  • Drivers must take a 30-minute break when they have been driving for a cumulative period of 8 hours.
  • Drivers may not drive after 60/70 hours of duty unless they have taken 34 or more hours off duty.

This is a great beginning, but it isn’t foolproof, as is evidenced by the fact that there were 16,910 commercial truck accidents in just the state of Indiana alone in 2017.

  • There is no guarantee that the drivers who are mandated to be off duty are actually sleeping. As much as they may want to, changing schedules make regular sleep almost impossible.
  • Some drivers find ways to circumvent the regulations. They are paid by the mile, not for their time, so when they are waiting to onload or offload, they may record in their ELD (Electronic Logging device) that they are off duty or in their sleeper berth when they are actually awake and waiting.

Going forward:

Citing a BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) study showing that transportation fatalities accounted for 40% of all work-related fatalities, NIOSH (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) launched a 10-year strategic plan to study this issue from 2020-2029.

They highlight the fact that drivers of big rigs are by no means the only workers who drive as part of their employment. For example, Uber, Lyft, taxi drivers, first responders, food delivery drivers, package delivery drivers, and salespeople all spend their workdays on the road.

If you are injured in a workplace accident or crash where fatigue (either yours or another’s) is a factor, you will need an experienced attorney to sift through the facts and hold those responsible accountable for your medical bills and lost wages.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to “implement measures to monitor and limit worker exposures to health and physical hazards in the workplace.” In other words, your employer is responsible for monitoring and controlling conditions so that you are safe at work. One of those conditions is fatigue.

Read our article “What Should I Do if I Am Injured in a Work-Related Incident” for further details on this matter.

In addition to filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, contact the legal experts at the Crossen Law Firm to help make sure your compensation case is both successful and fair. We know the intricacies of Indiana workers’ compensation law, and we’ll fight to make sure that employers aren’t shortchanging your just compensation.

For a free consultation about your case, contact Crossen at 371-401-8626.

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