by Alex Palmer | October 02, 2012
Tired employees can take a toll on workplace safety and an organization’s bottom line, a new study finds. The research, published in the October issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry, points to an element of on-the-job well-being that managers might want to keep in mind when developing workplace safety programs.

The study, titled “The Associations of Insomnia With Costly Workplace Accidents and Errors,” estimates that insomnia is responsible for 274,000 workplace accidents and errors each year, costing about $31 billion in extra costs for organizations. The report draws on responses of about 5,000 employed people in the U.S., who were surveyed about their behaviors in 2008 and 2009.

The researchers found that a full 20 percent of respondents reported having symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of insomnia. 

About 5.5 percent of respondents with insomnia said they caused accidents that caused damage or work disruption valued at $500 or more, compared with 4 percent of those who didn't seem to have insomnia. The researchers estimated that insomnia was associated with 7.2 percent of all costly workplace accidents and errors and 23.7 percent of all the costs of these incidents.

While insomnia might be a difficult thing for workplace incentives to deter, experts believe there are steps that managers could take with their safety programs to help catch on-the-job sleepiness before it leads to an accident. 

Linda Wodele, relationship manager for Hinda, who works with companies to design reward programs, says that safety programs are increasingly focused on creating an atmosphere where coworkers look out for one another, and catch unsafe behaviors earlier. In this sort of situation, a peer would probably be the first to identify a coworker who did not seem to be getting enough sleep.

“If someone notices a coworker zoning out or not fully awake, the culture will encourage them to take responsibility for that,” says Wodele. 

She gave the example of a recent program Hinda had been developing called “My Brother’s Keeper” that put expectations on workers to also look out for their coworkers behavior.

“Workers can get distracted and fall back into old habits, so those continual reminders are so important for creating behavior to develop a safe environment,” says Wodele. “It has to be a coworker telling another, ‘you don’t have earplugs on,’ or, ‘you left your goggles in the lunchroom, and I don’t want you to get hurt.’”

The full report can be found here