Employers could soon be testing the blood and saliva of their employees in order to determine how tired they are.
Researchers from Monash University in Melbourne found biological markers that were directly linked to alertness – including eye movement patterns, blood-based metabolites, signal responses and various speech parameters. These findings suggest that tiredness can be objectively measured – much like drug and alcohol consumption.
Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences Professor Shantha Rajaratnam said it was a major step forward in the pathway to developing objective tests of fitness to work or drive, and that portable tests could be developed in the next two to five years.
Tired at Work
When it comes to the workplace, tired workers are not only underproductive – they’re dangerous. According to Work Safe NZ, people who are tired and fatigued are 30 percent more likely to have an accident. In Australia, over 10 000 serious workplace injuries are caused by sleepy workers, along with 25 000 serious road crashes. That’s because sleep deprivation can significantly reduce reaction time, motor control, decision-making, and situational awareness.
And despite being recognised globally as a dangerous hazard, people go to work tired all the time. A 2015 report from Work Safe NZ found that 43 percent of workers in sectors with a high risk of injuries or fatalities reported working when overtired. Even once you’re at work, you may not realise it’s affecting you – a 2012 study found that workers who had less than six hours sleep became significantly slower at identifying visual information, despite reporting that they weren’t tired.
Professor Rajaratnam said people are inherently bad judges when it comes to assessing their own fitness to work. “The problem is people just keep working or driving despite having a hard time staying awake. They don’t recognise their symptoms of drowsiness and the danger these represent.”
Like all hazards, managing tiredness and fatigue at work is a shared responsibility. Employers are responsible for providing appropriate work scheduling and rosters, while employees must present for work in a reasonable condition. But currently, this is all based on trust. You have to trust your employees when they say they’re fit for work. A portable blood or saliva test would give employers the power to objectively determine if workers are putting themselves and others at risk.
The researchers hope their findings will improve the education surrounding workplace fatigue and how it relates to health and safety. You can read more about the findings of the study here, and access general information about the dangers of workplace fatigue here.