Through its extensive research of the American workforce, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of the causes and natures of worker injuries.
Although the most common causes of injury might be expected—incidents like falls, vehicle accidents, and being struck by objects, for example—people probably do not realize that cognitive impairment, usually from fatigue but also from drugs, alcohol, illness, or other sources, has a high potential to be a contributing factor to many of these common causes.
Below, we’ll examine five of those common causes and see their relationship to cognitive impairment.
Of course, fatigue and impairment can relate to more than those described here, but these five have a direct relationship that is easy to see.
1. Overexertion – This is the most common cause of injury to employees. Cognitive impairment can contribute to poor judgment, and poor judgment can lead impaired people to overexert themselves. Even when not causing a sudden, severe injury, regular overexertion causes physical fatigue, leading to performance detriments, soreness, and injury over the long term.
2. Falling – Fatigue and impairment affect not only cognition but motor skills and balance. Combining compromised focus with unsteady hands and feet is a recipe for increased risk of falling, whether tripping or slipping to the ground or plummeting from a height.
3. Roadway incidents with motor vehicle – Many occupations require traveling by motor vehicle, and the risks presented by impaired drivers are well known. Among worst-case scenarios, a seriously fatigued driver, for example, could fall asleep behind the wheel. It is also well known that cognitive impairment increases the prevalence and likelihood of errors, and errors made while behind the wheel can be costly. Plus, although a tired employee driver may not himself make an error, his impaired state may affect his ability to react in time to other drivers’ errors.
4. Repetitive motions – Similar to overexertion, repetitive motions lead to physical fatigue which wears down the body and leads to injury. In addition, repetitive motions are often tedious as well, leading to mental fatigue and the associated cognitive impairment. An employee in such a state presents not only a high risk for suffering an injury but also heightens the safety risk of those around him.
5. Being struck or caught by object or equipment – Although such an incident can have a multitude of contributing factors, there is obvious potential for fatigue or impairment to lead to a lapse in judgment or an error while operating, cleaning, or repairing heavy equipment.
More often than not, some sort of cognitive impairment is at the root of such accidents. Workplaces that use fatigue management and impairment testing systems such as PRISM and AlertMeter® have seen significant improvements in safety culture, reductions in worker's comp cases, increased productivity, and fewer incidents.