New CSA Research Finds Canadian Employers Can Do More to Address Workplace Fatigue

New CSA Research Finds Canadian Employers Can Do More to Address Workplace Fatigue

Very proud to have this report released! Thank you to all who contributed to our efforts, and a huge thank you to the CSA Group for tackling this issue. We are one step closer to providing all Canadian workplaces, both large and small, with a national standard on how to address fatigue. – Mike

With unprecedented levels of workplace fatigue attributed to modern day work, a national standard could help address the issue and improve workplaces in Canada

(Toronto, November 20, 2019) – Professional burnout is affecting a wide range of jobs, workplaces and industries, and there is no standard definition or management practice in place to address this issue. That’s the key finding from CSA Group’s latest research report Workplace Fatigue: Current Landscape and Future Considerations which was released today and finds that a common definition of workplace fatigue is currently lacking in Canada.

In 2019, for the first time, the World Health Organization recognized burnout as a medical diagnosis. However, without a standard definition of what workplace fatigue means in Canada, it’s difficult to say how pervasive the problem is.

CSA Group’s research finds that while a number of industries in Canada, including aviation, rail, marine, nuclear, oil and gas, healthcare and defense do recognize fatigue as an issue for workers, there is no comprehensive definition of workplace fatigue, what causes it or how it may affect performance.

“Our research has identified that there is certainly an opportunity for standards that address workplace fatigue to make a real and positive difference to workers in this country,” said Mary Cianchetti, President of Standards, CSA Group. “What we’ve found is there is a need to support the management of workplace fatigue in Canada for the health and safety of Canadian workers. CSA Group could help to address this gap with a national standard.”

In some workplaces, the potential consequences of fatigue can be a matter of life and death. Workers in paramedic services face unique health and safety issues on a daily basis such as shift work and extended work days, as well as periods of intense psychological stress or trauma. That’s why the Paramedic Association of Canada is currently working with CSA Group to develop a national standard on fatigue risk management for first responders, in parallel with this new research.

“Paramedics do a job that can be grueling both physically and emotionally, and workplace fatigue is an issue we cannot ignore. We know that the impact of fatigue on first responders can affect neurocognitive performance, which in turn can endanger not only their own personal health and safety, but also the health and safety of their fellow responders and the public they serve,” said Pierre Poirier, Executive Director, Paramedic Association of Canada. “This research identifies that a gap does exist in Canada when it comes to how fatigue is being addressed in the workplace. We are pleased to already be working with CSA Group to develop a standard for fatigue risk management for first responders aimed at reducing exposure to fatigue-related hazards and protecting both paramedics and the people they help every day.”

In 2018, CSA Group introduced a psychological health and safety standard to address the specific needs of paramedic service organizations. The creation of a standard for workplace fatigue could address gaps in the existing legislation to protect the health and livelihood of all Canadian workers, regardless of where they work.

For more information on the Workplace Fatigue: Current Landscape and Future Considerations research report, click here.

Is Being Exhausted at Work as Dangerous as Being Drunk at Work?

Is Being Exhausted at Work as Dangerous as Being Drunk at Work?

Interview with Mike, Published by the IAM141

For some workers, going to work chronically fatigued might be more dangerous than being at work drunk, according to a sleep expert speaking at the IAM141 2017 Safety Conference this week. 

 Airline union activists, managers, and safety advocates learned a surprising fact this week. Working with chronic, accumulative fatigue is more dangerous than working while moderately intoxicated – a lot more dangerous.

Mike Harnett, a featured speaker at the Conference, knows just how harmful a lack of sleep can be. She is an expert on the subject of fatigue management and sleep deprivation, and her research on the topic has provided valuable guidance to groups and organizations such as NASA, airports, transportation companies and labor groups such as the IAM. 


With news reports of baggage handlers falling asleep in the underbellies of the planes they are working, only to awaken after take-off, sleeplessness has already become a severe issue for air carriers. Airport workers need high levels of physical athleticism, mental focus, and situational awareness to do their jobs safely. And, when the safety of the flying public is also taken into account, the need to avoid the kinds of impairments that come with knocking back a few beers before work is a no-brainer. 

Yet, unlike being a little tipsy at work, it can be hard for employers and even workers to wake up to the dangers of chronic sleep deprivation. Nevertheless, the problem should be taken seriously, according to Harnett. Especially in the case of airport workers, who are uniquely vulnerable to the damage that can be caused by the effects of fatigue. 


Meanwhile, the symptoms of sleep deprivation are almost identical to intoxication. Loss of situational awareness, underestimation of risk, hindered visual perception, and reduced reaction times are all symptomatic of both drunkenness and fatigue. 

Peer-reviewed studies have consistently demonstrated that a person who has been awake for only 17 hours has the equivalent impairment of a person with a blood-alcohol level of .05%. (In many states, a blood-alcohol level of .08% is enough to result in a DUI arrest.) Those who have stayed awake from 5:00 AM to 2:00 in the morning without sleeping will have reached a .08% blood alcohol level of impairment, and those who have gone without rest for 24 hours can expect an equivalent impairment of .1%. ??“Impaired is impaired,” Mike Harnett told the crowd of some 120 union activists and company managers. “If you are impaired because you’re drunk, or if you have these same impairments due to fatigue, you are creating the same hazard.” 

Fatigue is one of the most common causes of airline accidents, with most airport injuries happening early in the morning and late at night when workers are the most tired. 


Fixing the problem will require more than a nap. Harnett says that those suffering from chronic fatigue cannot accurately determine if they have reached a dangerous level of sleep deprivation. Even worse, the problem is rampant, with strong majorities of Americans completely unaware of the danger of chronic fatigue. Airport workers who must work sleep-defying shifts late at night or very early in the morning, and who get hit with mandatory overtime and inconsistent days off on a regular basis may be even more at risk than the overall population. 

Harnett suggests that the solution to accidents caused by chronic fatigue will require a long-term partnership between workers and companies. Companies will need to begin understanding that fatigue can be a real threat and not merely a discipline issue. Company managers often think of sleep as a personal issue that shouldn’t be factored into the work environment. In many cases, travel times to and from work are not factored into the space between work shifts. At many airlines, workers are severely punished for napping at the workplace before or after shifts. These policies need to change, Harnett says. 

But, a lot of the burden is going to fall on the shoulders of airline workers themselves. There are real dangers associated with chronic fatigue, and most of these problems can be solved with better sleep.

7 Strategies for Managing Employee Fatigue

7 Strategies for Managing Employee Fatigue

This article was published by WSPS (Workplace Safety & Prevention Services). Link to their website here.

Sleep-related fatigue has reached epidemic proportions in Canada, says Mike Harnett, President of Solaris Fatigue Management.* “Three quarters of the population are not getting the minimum required amount of sleep. Employees are showing up for work cognitively or physically unable to do the job to the extent that you expect.” 

This may translate directly into injuries and incidents. “The reality is that what gets labelled human error is often a consequence of fatigue,” says Mike. “If you’ve been awake for 17 hours straight, you have an impairment equivalent to .05% blood alcohol content. If you’re awake for 20 hours, you’re at .08%.”

While we may not be able to eliminate fatigue, implementing a fatigue management system or plan can help reduce the related risks. Mike offers seven strategies for managing employee fatigue.

  1. Educate senior leadership and managers on the cost and consequences of employee fatigue and build a strong business case. Management may not have considered that office workers face fewer fatigue-related hazards than someone on the factory floor, and may not correlate fatigue with organizational performance and employee safety. Here’s a key statistic for your business case: research shows 13% of workplace injuries can be attributed to fatigue.** Work with senior leaders to establish targets and metrics for managing fatigue.
  2. Determine whether your workplace has a fatigue problem by conducting an employee survey. If your workplace has a culture in which employees may not feel comfortable talking about their experience with fatigue, invite them to respond anonymously.

If you determine fatigue is a concern, consider the following steps.

  1. Review your safety management systems through a fatigue lens and start incorporating fatigue into your workplace’s health and safety policies and procedures. For instance, set out rules and responsibilities for supervisors for managing someone who is tired. Are they allowed to let an employee have a nap? Do they have the authority and means to temporarily assign the employee to a task posing less risk? What is the process when someone consistently shows up fatigue impaired?
  2. Review your hazard assessments through the same lens. Start with high-risk tasks. How much risk could fatigue add and how could you mitigate it?
  3. Consider the work schedule from a hazard or fatigue perspective, especially if your workplace has shift assignments. “For example,” says Mike, “early morning activities (before 6 a.m.) are high risk because these workers are at ‘the window of circadian low’ — the worst possible time cognitively and physically for us to be functioning because it’s when our bodies are programmed for optimal sleep.” Implement strategies to offset or mitigate the risks, such as moving critical tasks away from the hours between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., or double-checking any work performed at that time. 
  4. Screen employees for sleep disorders and incorporate solutions into wellness and benefits programs. “One in four Canadians are at a high risk for obstructive sleep apnea, which can be a killer. If your screening identifies people at high risk for sleep apnea, arrange for proper diagnosis and treatment.” Also, consider offering benefits that promote quality sleep, such as blackout drapes, white noise devices and CPAP machines — the preferred treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. 
  5. Provide employees with strategies that improve sleep and alertness, such as what foods to eat on nightshift, when is the best time to exercise, how to manage family and social schedules, etc. “Share information on how to achieve good sleep, how to manage fatigue, and how to live a shiftwork lifestyle. Shiftwork isn’t about a schedule, shiftwork is a lifestyle and they need to adapt to accommodate that lifestyle,” says Mike.

How WSPS can help

Our ergonomic specialists — part of WSPS’ team of technical consultants — can help your workplace explore options for managing fatigue and reducing the risk of fatigue-related incidents. Examples include cognitive demands analysis, shift schedule design, ergonomic assessments to reduce musculoskeletal loading fatigue and more.

* Solaris Fatigue Management works with human factors and fatigue management specialists to provide a comprehensive suite of fatigue related services. Mike Harnett is a frequent speaker at symposia and conferences, including WSPS’ Partners in Prevention 2019 Health & Safety Conference & Trade Show. Find out more about Solaris Fatigue Management.

The High Price of too Little Sleep

The High Price of too Little Sleep

The original article appeared in WorkSafe BC Magazine. Article by Sarah Ripplinger

Fatigue is more than just a bad night’s sleep. Being in a chronic state of tiredness has adverse health effects from slow response times to increased vulnerability to disease. Employers can reduce the harm by creating a fatigue risk-management system.

Getting enough sleep is essential for our health, but it’s often easy to believe we can overcome fatigue with another cup of coffee or a splash of cold water to the face. In reality, the rise of digital technology and 24/7 workplaces is changing the way we work, and making it easier to work at any time of the day.

This comes with business benefits in terms of workplace productivity, flexible work schedules, and meeting growing consumer needs. But the flip side is that, according to a sleep review from Dalhousie University, only 26 percent of Canadians get a minimum seven hours of sleep per night. And an estimated 40 to 50 percent of workers are fatigued at work.

“Globally, fatigue has been identified as a contributory factor in many serious and fatal incidents spanning decades. It is having real impacts on workplace health and safety,” says Heather Kahle, a human factors specialist and ergonomist at WorkSafeBC. “Fatigue decreases one’s ability to perceive and process important information necessary for safety. It may also decrease one’s ability to adequately respond to workplace hazards.”

More than feeling drowsy or sleepy, fatigue is an acute or chronic state of tiredness. Disruptions to our body’s natural circadian rhythms — which affect our sleeping and waking cycles — from such things as shift work, long shifts, and back-to-back shifts increase the risk

of workplace fatigue. If left unchecked, fatigue can contribute to long-term health effects, such as a vulnerability to certain types of cancers, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Putting workplace fatigue to bed WorkSafeBC held its inaugural Fatigue Risk Management Symposium on June 7, 2018, to raise awareness of the risks associated with fatigue in the workplace and the importance of addressing them. Nearly 200 professionals from a variety of industries heard from five leading experts on fatigue-related risk in the workplace.

Presentations and discussions covered topics ranging from fatigue risk management to circadian rhythms and how fatigue influences workplace performance. Presenter Mike Harnett, president of Solaris Fatigue Management, emphasized why it’s important for employers to take an active role in preventing fatigue. She notes that fatigue in the workplace only became part of the broader risk assessment dialogue for employers in the past three to four years, largely due to increased reporting on scientific findings that show fatigue impairment is real. Before that, fatigue was often seen as an issue for workers, not employers. Fatigue risk management is a shared responsibility. “We cannot continue to blame the worker and classify the cause of incidents as ‘human error.’” The challenge now, Harnett says, is to continue to raise the profile of fatigue as a risk-management priority. “Management needs to see fatigue as a business issue

and collect metrics to drive informed decision making,” says Harnett. “Only through the  collection of objective data can management set targets that support KPIs [key performance indicators]. As we often say in the safety world: What gets managed, gets done.” Managing fatigue from the top down A fatigue risk-management system (FRMS) is a highly useful framework employers can use to proactively identify and evaluate hazards and risks that may result in harm or adverse outcomes. Critical to this undertaking is establishing an integrated, consistent, and trustworthy system-wide approach to identify, assess, and control for the risks that can escalate in the presence of fatigue. Transparent reporting and evaluation policies are also essential ingredients of a successful FRMS. “With fatigue recognized as a key contributory factor in workplace health and safety, FRMS is a solid framework used worldwide to measure, mitigate, and manage the risk of fatigue,” says Kahle. “It can be used to set priorities and establish baseline data to evaluate fatigue management strategies over time to ensure that

targets are being met and the appropriate interventions are being used. “Employers will have fatigued workers in the workplace at some point. It’s important to ask yourself if hazards in the workplace increase the risk of harm or could lead to adverse safety outcomes when workers are

fatigued,” adds Kahle. “When workers miss changes or important information in their environment because of fatigue, it affects everything we do in the workplace. Addressing this can save businesses countless dollars due to injury and lost productivity.” For more information

To assess the level of your daytime sleepiness, check out the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, which is easily searchable online.

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