NSC Takes Aim at Workers' Fatigue with New Online Tool

The National Safety Council says fatigue in the workplace is one of its most significant new priorities.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The National Safety Council unveiled a new tool to help employers assess their workers' fatigue levels and begin to address sleep disorders, with council CEO and President Deborah A.P. Hersman joining Dr. Charles Czeisler and others from Brigham Health who contributed to the development of the new Fatigue Cost Calculator for Employers (nsc.org/tiredatwork). Hersman and colleagues demonstrated the online tool during a Sept. 25 news conference at the National Safety Congress & Expo taking place here.

Czeisler is director of the Sleep Matters Initiative at Brigham Health and the Baldino Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He said with this tool, employers for the first time have a resource they can use to accurately measure the costs of fatigue in their workplaces, without having to wade through reams of scientific papers. He said along with his colleagues, he has screened about 25,000 workers across a wide range of industries and consistently found that 30 to 35 percent of the worker population in each industry, sometimes as many as 40 percent, suffer from undiagnosed sleep disorders.

The calculator allows users to input their type of industry, number of employees, and types of shifts they work and then to calculate what the annual costs of sleep disorders among their workers are, broken down into health costs, absenteeism, and lower productivity. A hypothetical example shown during the news conference, for a Fortune 500 company, showed more than $1 million in annual costs, with the largest share attributed to lower productivity.

"This is something that's happening every day in this country," said Hersman. "The reality is, every industry, every company, has the potential to put their workers at risk."

Czeisler said the new online tool "represents a watershed even for the whole field of sleep disorders." Employers should use the tool to estimate costs and ROI and should institute sleep education for employees and voluntary screening for sleep disorders, which is done through a short questionnaire, he said. He said about one in every three men and one in every six women, on average, suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, with many cases being undiagnosed. OSA can lead to high blood pressure and diabetes and is linked to early onset of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease, he said.

Many employers don't recognize sleep disorders as a health problem, but they should, Hersman said. "Sleep is critical. Putting in more hours on the job does not always mean better performance," she said.

"It really is a large swath of the United States" who suffer from sleep disorders," Czeisler said. "Most chronic disorders are eminently treatable." He added the employers can create a healthy sleep culture, something he called "really critical."

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