The operator stared at the CAT 349 excavator that lay half in the trench. The cab had been partially crushed when the operator’s side of the trench wall had collapsed as he straddled it with the excavator’s tracks.
“I don’t know, Jess,” he said to me. “It just seemed like the thing to do at the time, but now that I look at it from here, I don’t know what the heck I was seeing and thinking. I would normally never attempt anything like that. What’s wrong with me?”
I could see genuine wonder and concern in his eyes, so I asked, “How many hours have you worked over the past two weeks?”
His reply answered his own question. “One hundred seventy-eight hours according to my paychecks, and we’ve worked 16 hours per day for the past three days. Jess, you know we’ve just been doing what we have to do to meet the outage and final tie-in deadline.”
And in that brief exchange, we see how fatigue builds and an example of how it can affect you, me and our crews.
Although this incident happened well over 10 years ago, on a pipeline project far away, our projects, people and industry are still experiencing the same time pressures, seeing similar incidents and having the same conversations. What you’ll learn in this Tailgate Topic is how to identify and combat fatigue within and around you.
What is Fatigue and How Can it Affect Us?
Those who have experienced fatigue – which is just about everyone – describe it as physical, mental and emotional sluggishness, an inability to be clear, bright and ready for action. Following are more specific descriptions of fatigue and how it affects us in various ways.
What Contributes to Fatigue?
While it would be nice if fatigue came from just one source, that’s not the case. It stems from a combination of work, home and personal influences, including working extended hours for more than 10 days; being busy outside of work; mental stress; environmental extremes such as heat, excessive noise and continuous vibration; getting less than six to eight hours of sleep per night; and poor nutrition and/or dehydration.
How Can Leaders Help Alleviate Fatigue?
Although we can’t totally eliminate fatigue from our job sites, there are some things that we can do to help set up our crews for success:
How Can Workers Help Alleviate Fatigue?
Our success in the war against fatigue is a joint effort. It requires workers to make good life decisions, such as:
Time pressure from outages and other priority assignments contributes to fatigue in our workforce, but there also are personal issues that ride in with our workers each day. Regardless, there are strategies we can use and tactics we can employ to battle fatigue as we strive to do the job right and go home unharmed today and every day.
About the Author: Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP, is vice president of HSE for Supreme Industries, a Harwinton, Connecticut-based contractor that specializes in right-of-way clearing, building access roads and pads, drilling and pole pulling.
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