Fatigue can set in when you don't get enough sleep—or quality sleep.

It can impair your ability to safely perform tasks, including driving.

Job-related factors, including long hours and long commutes, can contribute to a worker's risk of driver fatigue.

But there is a fatigue risk management system that can help employers and workers reduce the risks of driver fatigue.

It promotes alertness among workers, identifies fatigue-prone tasks, and lessens fatigue and its potential consequences.

As many as 20% of fatal crashes in the general population involve driver fatigue, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health's Center for Motor Vehicle Safety.

Research shows a driver operating a vehicle after 24 hours straight without sleep has an impairment similar to a blood-alcohol content of 0.10, which exceeds the legal threshold for driving while intoxicated.

Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but a survey of the U.S. workforce found that 37% of workers get less than the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep, according to NIOSH.

Causes of Fatigue

Causes of driver fatigue include being awake for too many consecutive hours, not getting enough sleep over several days, a sleep/wake cycle in which your body tells you when to be alert and when to sleep, monotonous tasks or long periods of inactivity, and health factors such as sleep disorders or medications that cause drowsiness.

The effects of sleep deprivation on a driver include nodding off at the wheel, slower reactions, poor decisions, drifting from your lane, loss of peripheral vision, briefly falling asleep, and forgetting the last few miles driven.

A fatigue risk management system involves employers and workers sharing the responsibility of managing fatigue.

Here are some things to know before launching a fatigue risk management system, according to NIOSH:

  • Your system should be data-driven, based on your company's operations, fatigue-related incidents, and other sources.
  • A successful system depends on commitment and follow-through by senior leaders, with defined roles and responsibilities throughout the management chain.
  • The system doesn't stand alone—it becomes part of your overall health and safety management system.
  • Driver fatigue risks differ by the type of work, work schedules, remoteness of the work location, and other factors. You will need to tailor your system to account for these differences.
  • As with any management system, continued improvement is essential to success.

Lines of Defense

Putting a fatigue risk management system in place may seem daunting, but it's easier if you break it up into smaller actions.

Fatigue management experts have outlined a five-level chain of events that leads to a fatigue-related incident.

Think of these levels as lines of defense—at each level are opportunities to stop the chain of events from advancing to the next level.

Employer and worker expectations should be defined for each level:

  • Level 1: Ensuring there is adequate opportunity to sleep.
  • Level 2: Actually obtaining that sleep.
  • Levels 3 and 4: Identifying fatigue-related errors and taking action before an incident occurs.
  • Level 5: Questioning the role fatigue plays in workplace accidents to prevent future incidents.

The fact remains that there is no substitute for sleep. No amount of experience, motivation, or professionalism can overcome the body's need for sleep.

Driver fatigue is a significant workplace safety risk, but a fatigue risk management system can help stop the chain of events that could end with a crash.


For more information, contact CBIA's Phillip Montgomery (860.244.1982).