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The Danger Of Sleep Deprivation – And What It Means For Construction Workers

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“Sleep deprivation can kill” was the conclusion of an in-depth study reported on a few years ago by Lesley Stahl on the television program, “60 Minutes.” Researchers told Stahl that getting enough sleep is as vital to survival as getting enough food. The conclusion of the scientists who conducted the study was pretty powerful concerning sleep: “Go without it and you could die.”

Research published by the Harvard Medical School, which surveyed more than 10,000 people in the U.S., found that that insomnia could be linked to 274,000 workplace accidents and errors each year. If you know that your lack of sleep has an impact on your level of accuracy and productivity at work, you are not alone.

Recently, the federal government has recognized the need for cross-country truck drivers to get enough sleep. Drivers are required to keep a log of the amount of time they drive, when they take breaks, and when they stop in order to sleep. If they come to an inspection station and the log shows they have not had enough sleep, they have to pull over and sleep for a while before they can continue on their trip.

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) recently placed restrictions on how much time drivers for hire can actually be behind the wheel before they have to sign off and go get some sleep. The Commission substantiated its new rules with findings that “driving while fatigued can be as dangerous as driving after heavy drinking.”

It may be time to study sleep-deprivation in the workplace, particularly in the construction industry. The accident rate nationwide and in New York City is high, with thousands of construction workers injured or killed every year.

The Construction Industry Injury and Fatality Statistics

The U.S. Occupational and Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that more than 20 percent of all accidental deaths in the workplace are in the construction industry. Falls account for nearly 40 percent of all construction accidents. The rest of the accidents are caused by workers being hit by a falling object, being electrocuted, or getting caught in-between objects. OSHA refers to these as “the fatal four.”

In New York City, construction workers account for only 5 percent of the workforce but suffer 27 percent of all work-related fatalities. In addition to a large number of accidental deaths, thousands and thousands are injured. Every day, construction workers are asked to climb ladders and scaffolding. They walk out on beams and crawl across roofs. They work with power tools, from simple hammers to the complex, dangerous equipment. They have to make quick decisions. There is evidence that sleep deprivation contributes to a greater risk of workplace injuries and construction site accidents.

According to OSHA, a normal work shift is generally considered to be a work period of no more than eight consecutive hours during the day, five days a week with at least an eight-hour rest, with any shift that incorporates more continuous hours, requires more consecutive days of work, or requires work during the evening being considered extended or unusual.

While extended or unusual work shifts are often more stressful physically, mentally, and emotionally, there is no current specific OSHA Standard to address the circumstances extended shifts can lead to such fatigue or sleep deprivation.

Dangers of Sleep Deprivation Construction Workers Face

An article published specifically for construction workers discusses the dangers of sleep-deprivation in the workforce in general and discusses 10 ways in which sleep-deprivation can affect construction workers. The dangerous behaviors of sleep-deprived individuals include:

  • Poor communication. They often stop mid-sentence and forget what they were saying. They may drop the volume of their voice, making it difficult for others to hear.
  • Slow response time. Reflexes are slow. Sleep-deprived people are not even aware of this effect on them.
  • Easily distracted. They have trouble focusing on the task at hand. They pay little attention to details.
  • Impairment when operating machinery. The trucking industry has recognized that driving while sleep-deprived has the same consequences as drunk driving. Federal rules regulate how many hours truck drivers are allowed to drive before being forced to stop and sleep. But, this message seems not to have gotten to the construction industry, where workers have to operate complex machinery, like forklifts, cranes, or even a simple electric drill.
  • Overall increased number of errors. These errors are generally of two types: 1) errors of commission, which mean the act leads to harm to the worker or to others who are nearby; or 2) errors of omission, which means a failure to perform a necessary task.
  • Poor assimilation and memory. The worker will have trouble understanding a new way to do a certain task and may have trouble remembering the sequence in which tasks are to be performed.
  • Inappropriate moods. There is a tendency to have outbursts due to irritability, impatience, or a simple unwillingness or inability to maintain control.
  • Increased incidences of risk-taking behavior. Brain imaging studies show actual changes in the sleep-deprived brain in regions that control rational thinking. This increases the chances that a person in the construction industry is making risky decisions. The worker may gamble “in scenarios in which the losses outweigh the benefits.”
  • Unable to quickly make any necessary adjustment. Workers may be unable to perform requested tasks, resulting in danger to themselves and others.
  • Lasting effects of sleep deprivation. Only one night of “total sleep deprivation” can affect a person’s ability to function normally for up to two weeks.

Getting an adequate amount of sleep is not only important for your overall health but also necessary to maintain the skills you need at work such as concentration, memory, coordination and operating complex machinery. Being aware of your sleep habits and establishing positive rest habits will help make you a safer employee.

Construction workers that have been injured in a construction accident may be eligible for financial compensation and workers compensation regardless of fault. If you’ve been injured, contact a construction accident lawyer at our firm to learn more about your legal options.

By: Howard Raphaelson

Howard A. Raphaelson founded Raphaelson & Levine Law Firm, P.C. in 1992 after graduating from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Established in New York, NY, his personal injury law firm has obtained numerous million-dollar verdicts. With over twenty-five years of experience as a personal injury attorney, he has earned a trusted reputation from his peers, judges, and top leaders, including recognition among the top 5% injury attorneys as a “Super Lawyer” (Thomson Reuters) and “New York’s Best Lawyers” (New York Magazine). View all posts by Howard Raphaelson

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