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Time On Task: An Overlooked Cause Of Workplace Injuries

On the topic of workplace injuries, you typically think of things like wet floors, dangerous equipment and poor maintenance. Another major cause of injuries is invisible: worker fatigue, which reduces productivity and increases the risk of injury or accident.

Sleep deprivation and working on night shifts are two well-known causes of fatigue. A third cause is "time on task," which is the amount of time a worker spends on a specific task. These tasks are the backbone of the economy and are an important part of many jobs, such as driving, data entry, assembly work and processing of orders.

The Effects Of Time-On-Task Fatigue

Research has found that time-on-task fatigue can cause lack of attention, sleepiness, muscle tiredness or mental tiredness, according to The National Safety Council. As a result, more effort is needed to maintain the same level of performance. As the amount of time spent on a task increases,

  • Attention declines
  • Speed declines
  • Accuracy declines

How long does it take to feel time-on-task fatigue? In the case of driving, researchers have learned that after 90 minutes of highway driving, time-on-task fatigue begins to take hold.

How To Prevent Time-On-Task Fatigue

If your job includes long stretches of time spent on the same task, one thing you can do is get enough sleep. Studies have shown that one-third of Americans suffer from sleep deprivation. You might be amazed at how your energy and productivity improve when you give yourself more sleep.

In the case of driving, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recommends these tips for preventing fatigue:

  • Get adequate sleep
  • Avoid medication that causes sleepiness
  • Do not rely on tricks to keep you alert (opening the window, turning the volume up on the radio, pinching your arm, drinking caffeine) 
  • Take a nap
  • Eat healthy foods (and avoid foods that cause spikes and crashes of energy levels)

A proactive step you can take at your workplace is to increase awareness: make sure your manager or managers are aware of how dangerous and costly time on task is. 

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