Humans can only operate at peak efficiency for so long. We eventually work through so many tasks and decisions during the day that we reach a point of mental exhaustion. It’s during these points of mental overload that critical decision-making becomes more lax and we take on a higher tolerance for risk. This diminished acuity leads us to trade off caution and diligence for speed and convenience as we try to cut corners to save our brains from additional stress. And it’s in these moments where important safety processes are most likely skipped.
Employers trying to solve safety process fatigue can feel like they’re fighting a losing battle. Which is true to a degree — safety fatigue is not an issue that will ever be completely “solved”. But the alternative is allowing fatigue to go unchecked which leads to increases in injuries, damages, and potentially worse. And there are ways to help employees partially avoid fatigue in incremental steps. Employers struggling with an increase in safety protocol negligence should explore these ways to combat safety fatigue in the workplace.
The most direct way to address an overload of decisions wearing down employees is by eliminating some of the decisions they need to make. Even reducing minute decisions can help lower the burden on employees. Because the cumulative amount of decisions being made is as detrimental to employee fatigue as the importance of the decisions.
Reevaluating and streamlining processes around worksites and facilities produces multiple benefits. Namely, it reduces employee fatigue by reducing the complexity of tasks. This makes processes easier to learn, understand, and complete. This also makes the workplace a more efficient environment as fewer steps are required for the same end goal. Detailed processes should remain in place if each detail has a distinct and measurable purpose. But finding areas to free up employees’ ability to focus will make them more agile and alert workers who are more willing to participate in safe working habits.
Occasionally timelines need to be expedited to get the work done. But employers need to understand the risk put on their employees when timelines are shifted up or crunched. Rushing timelines lead to more cut corners and higher rates of injuries as workers scramble to finish their tasks. This is not due to carelessness though. The increase primarily comes from employees taking on additional work and making faster decisions to try to keep up. The increased mental toll means employees have to make snap judgments under pressure without the time to fully understand the ramifications.
Keeping a steady, expected pace for timelines is ideal to cut down on fatigue. This is also true for processes in general. Using established and documented steps for tasks and processes makes it clear what needs to be done and how. This eases the decision-making stress from employees jumping between tasks throughout the day.
Safety process fatigue is a complex issue inherently tied to employee behavior. Trying to find a way to reduce it in the workplace requires being able to evaluate both the work being done and how employees work best in any given environment. Organizations and supervisors looking for additional resources to tackle safety fatigue should consider partnering with a safety management consultant such as Amerisafe. ACSS provides a thorough consultation and analysis process — the P3 Safety Culture Analysis™ — that identifies areas of improvement across 30 easy-to-understand KPIs. The Safety Snapshot provided by Amerisafe highlights where employers should focus their efforts to build a holistic action plan that helps close gaps in an organization’s safety program. Using these resources helps employers both gain a thorough grasp on issues such as safety fatigue and provides solutions tailored to organizations individually.