Chapter 6: Level 2 Controls: Assessng Actual Sleep

Learning Outcomes

On completing this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Identify employees who are at risk for fatigue-related impairment.

  • Identify some of the reasons why employees may not obtain sufficient sleep

  • Describe potential processes for dealing with employees who have had insufficient sleep.

Level 2 Controls: Assessing Actual Sleep

Hazard-Control Model for Fatigue Risk Management
Click to enlarge image

Hazard-Control Model for Fatigue Risk Management

Level 1 controls presented in the previous chapter are intended to provide adequate sleep opportunities to employees. However, the organization has little control over what employees actually do or, specifically, how much sleep they actually obtain after they leave the workplace.

Level 2 controls are aimed at ensuring that employees get adequate sleep whenever they are provided sufficient sleep opportunity. This level of control is aimed at the individual level rather than at the organizational level.

Level 2 controls play two main roles within the fatigue risk management framework:

  • They identify employees who, even given sufficient sleep opportunity, fail to obtain sufficient sleep.

  • They can be used to assess the effectiveness of Level 1 controls.

While Level 1 controls provide an indication of the quantity of sleep likely to be obtained, it is important to know whether there is still a risk of fatigue at the individual level.

There are a number of reasons why employees may not get sufficient or sufficient quality sleep. Some may not be within the employee’s control. For example, parents with a newborn baby are likely to get reduced amounts of sleep. An employee with a partner who is a chronic snorer may be awakened periodically throughout the night. An employee with a business on the side may suffer from reduced sleep opportunity. Insomnia or life stress may keep an employee awake at night. An employee working night shift may simply be unable to sleep during the day. Or, an employee may be irresponsible and put social time and partying ahead of obtaining sufficient sleep to ensure fitness for duty. Regardless of the circumstances causing insufficient sleep, fatigued employees should be identified and treated as a potential workplace hazard.

Before discussing different kinds of action to take when employees do not get enough sleep, it is important to quantify “sufficient” sleep. How much sleep each person needs every 24 hours to perform optimally varies – in general it is between seven and nine hours. Research has found that a person can maintain alertness and performance for a single day on approximately six hours sleep. However, more sleep is needed on average over two or more nights, or performance – and safety – are likely to decline significantly. Even a few nights of five or six hours of sleep is likely to result in poorer performance, communication, and functioning in most individuals.

Another factor that should be considered in addition to total sleep time is the time since an employee last had a sleep or nap (i.e., length of time awake). Considerable scientific evidence suggests that the longer an individual has been awake the poorer their capacity. This is especially true if the total time since the last sleep or nap extends beyond 16 or 18 hours.

There are various ways to assess the sleep employees obtain. With the agreement of employees – and any other stakeholders, such as unions – companies may decide to set up a system where employees calculate for themselves how much sleep they have had and how long it has been since their last sleep period or nap. Employees may be required to report when their sleep or time awake doesn’t meet the requirements. For example, in a high-risk operation it might be agreed that any employee who has had less than 6 hours of sleep in 24 hours, or 12 hours of sleep in 48 hours, or has been awake for longer than 18 hours, must report to the supervisor. A simple method of calculating whether an employee is likely to be fatigued based on sleep and time awake is illustrated below.

Individual fatigue likelihood score (IFLS) is a calculation based on time asleep and awake
Click to enlarge image

Individual fatigue likelihood score (IFLS) is a
calculation based on time asleep and awake

This calculation tool can be printed on a wallet-sized card for easy reference by employees and managers.

A company may also decide that employees can, within reasonable limits, assess their own requirements for sleep and report to their supervisor when they do not meet minimum limits. This simple and practical process can flag sleepiness and fatigue issues before they lead to an incident.

When employees report to a supervisor that they have had insufficient sleep, it is important that clear procedures be in place to manage the risk in a consistent manner. This helps managers perform their duties and ensure that decisionmaking is based on clearly understood rules. The countermeasures to adopt should take into account the level of risk inherent in the tasks involved. The example below illustrates six possible scenarios of insufficient sleep that would require different actions by management.

On reporting:

  • Six hours sleep in the previous 24 hours, and 12 hours sleep in the previous 48: the employee might be instructed to go to work as normal.

  • Five hours sleep in the previous 24 hours, and 11 hours sleep in the previous 48 hours: the employee might be instructed to continue work, but to closely monitor fatigue-related behaviours or symptoms.

  • Five hours sleep in the previous 24 hours, 11 hours sleep in the previous 48 hours, and 18 hours awake: the employee might be instructed to take a nap and have a strong cup of coffee on waking up to minimize the risk of fatigue.

  • Four hours sleep in the previous 24 hours and ten hours sleep in the previous 48 hours: the employee might be instructed to have a strong cup of coffee, and work under close supervision of colleagues and managers.

  • Four hours sleep in the previous 24 hours, and eight hours sleep in the previous 48: the employee might be assigned to less critical tasks to minimize the consequence of potential errors.

  • Two hours sleep in the previous 24 hours and five hours sleep in the previous 48 hours: employees might be told to stop work, and either go home to sleep (if they live close by) or take a nap on the premises because they are unfit to drive.

Sleep thresholds are likely to vary from organization to organization, task to task, and individual to individual. If the threshold is set too low, it will be picked up by the subsequent levels of the hazard control system. For example, if employees are getting the recommended minimum amount of sleep (e.g., six hours per night), but still exhibit fatigue behaviours and symptoms (see Chapter 7), and if they are not suffering from a sleep disorder, it is likely that the minimum level of sleep is insufficient. Each organization – or even work group – should establish its own sleep thresholds and decision trees for when employees have not met the sleep requirements.

Assessing Adequacy of Level 1 Controls

Level 2 controls allow an organization to verify whether Level 1 controls for providing sufficient sleep opportunity are adequate. For instance, if numerous employees report insufficient sleep, the organization should reassess the sleep opportunity provided by the work schedules. On the other hand, if only a few fail to obtain a sufficient sleep, it may be because of non-work related reasons, rather than an issue with the sleep opportunity provided by the work schedule. With appropriate record-keeping procedures, reporting insufficient sleep can help organizations take a performance management approach to employees who consistently report difficulties in this area. The underlying reasons for each case should be investigated. It might be that the employee has a medical problem (e.g., insomnia, physical injury, or a bad cold) or that some life circumstance is negatively affecting sleep (e.g., personal stress, sickness in the family, noisy neighbourhood).

If an employee repeatedly does not take the necessary measures to obtain sufficient sleep, further action may be required. An organization may choose to address the issue using an approach similar to that used for any other problem that may affect performance, such as drug or alcohol abuse. This can be dealt with through discussions with the employee, agreements on measures to be taken, and a series of warnings that could even eventually lead to dismissal.

- How much sleep is required by most people to maintain alertness during a work period?
- List two questions you would ask an employee whom you think may not be getting enough sleep. What information would you seek with these questions?
- What actions would you take if an employee has had insufficient sleep?

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