AlertMeter® is sensitive to a number of issues that diminish alertness. When an employee's AlertMeter® performance suggests that he or she may be experiencing diminished alertness and may be impaired, their test score is considered Outside Normal Range, or "ONR." So what should happen when an employee scores ONR on the AlertMeter® test?
Principally, AlertMeter®'s purpose is to increase awareness of, and communication about, employees' fitness for work. Therefore, an ONR score does not automatically imply that the employee needs to be reprimanded. AlertMeter® users find that most ONR scores are due to normal, temporary conditions affecting the employee's ability to focus. And often, these conditions can be addressed with little-to-no disruption to normal routines, keeping the workplace both safe and productive.
The following five examples of best practices for handling ONR scores are based on what is learned during the important first step: observing and speaking to the employee.
AlertMeter® customers have cited several examples of employees testing ONR on a mid-shift AlertMeter® test after having been working for extended periods in a high-temperature environment without drinking water. Supervisors observed that in these instances, the employees had become irritable, tired, and even exhibited poor judgment. Recognizing that dehydration and their high-heat environment had accelerated fatigue symptoms, the employees in each case were instructed to take a ten-to-fifteen minute break in a cool area, to drink plenty of water, and then to re-take and score normally on the AlertMeter® test before returning to work.
2. task reassignment
Sometimes, the conversation with the employee reveals that he or she may need some additional time to "wake up" and improve focus before handling safety-sensitive or critical tasks. For some AlertMeter® users, it has been possible for an employee's task schedule to be rearranged or swapped with another employee temporarily. In many of these cases, a second AlertMeter® test taken mid-shift showed the employee was able to recover focus and perform at normal levels and take on his or her usual tasks.
3. bright white light
Although shift work itself exacerbates fatigue symptoms, employees working night shifts experience the greatest disruption to their natural circadian rhythms. One best practice for helping to keep night shift workers alert is to ensure their work environment is brightly lit in white light. White light is important (as opposed to "warm" light, which appears more orange-yellow) because it is the best substitute for real daylight. This can effectively influence the brain from a circadian "low" -- a state in which the body and brain naturally exert less energy and expect to be at rest -- into operating in "daytime" mode, a circadian "high," characterized by energy and alertness. Even day shift workers can benefit from brightly lit work areas to mitigate the circadian lulls that can occur in the mid-afternoon. Some AlertMeter® users with 24-hour shift cycles have even installed light stations, where employees sit in bright white light for short periods, to battle fatigue symptoms both preventatively as well as in reaction to ONR scores.
4. personal time
A fair number of ONR AlertMeter® scores have been the result of distraction, preoccupation, and emotional turmoil. Although employees may be hesitant to disclose the nature of their troubles and certainly shouldn't be obligated to share, a Supervisor may need to allow the employee an opportunity to address his or her personal issue for the sake of workplace safety and productivity. As it happens, distracted and preoccupied employees also tend to exhibit fatigue symptoms because their personal issues have also affected their sleep. In one case, an employee was allowed a day off to move into a relative's house after a week of living in his car. In another case, a grieving employee was sent home for the day because his distracted, emotional state not only compromised his productivity but created a safety risk. Although ONR scores are rare overall, Supervisors were always relieved when AlertMeter® helped them identify an employee who was not mentally and emotionally fit for work.
5. drug and alcohol testing
If observing and conversing with the employee suggests he or she may be intoxicated, company policy for determining reasonable suspicion may be followed, and the employee can be referred to Human Resources. Commonly, HR requirements for determining reasonable suspicion are for trained personnel with behavioral drug recognition skills. AlertMeter® is only a top-screen indicator and cannot confirm reasonable suspicion on its own, but coupling AlertMeter® alertness testing with a targeted reasonable suspicion testing policy is a best practice for curbing drug use in the modern workplace. AlertMeter® users have referred employees to their companies' Human Resources departments when employees are unable to score normally after repeated attempts and claim to not know why, when they are unreasonably defiant, or when their behavior is inconsistent or unusual.
These five examples are only a few best practices based on real experiences that AlertMeter® users have had. But because AlertMeter®'s purpose is to increase awareness of, and communication about, employees' fitness for work, the real value in using AlertMeter® comes in how it can help shape safety culture. As a top-screen indicator for fit-for-duty status and not a tool for catching wrongdoing, AlertMeter® increases awareness about one's own alertness and ability to focus, which can include sleep habits, caffeine intake, nutrition, and more. AlertMeter® can give employees more peace of mind knowing their co-workers have demonstrated that they are mentally fit for work and safe to work around. Plus, AlertMeter® scores can allow supervisors to know which employees need a little more attention during the shift, for example by working as part of an attentive and supportive crew, or having regular check-ins and re-tests throughout the shift.
Every individual at all levels of an organization shares the responsibility for safe work equally, and the above examples of AlertMeter®'s benefits demonstrate its usefulness as a tool in this shared responsibility. We'll explore this further in an upcoming blog post, looking more in depth at how AlertMeter® works as a tool for shared responsibility from the perspective of the employee user.
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