We spend about one third of our lives sleeping. If asked, most of us would probably agree that getting an adequate amount of sleep is important. So why is sleep overlooked in many of our daily lives? Why do we take shortcuts and not get enough sleep? Has sleep and getting enough rest been taken into consideration when we look at safety in the workplace? Maybe it is time that it has gotten more attention. Consider the following event: On Dec. 1, 2013, a train engineer operating a New York City commuter train fell asleep at the controls as the train was traveling 82 mph into a 30 mph curve in the Bronx. The engineer caught himself nodding off at the controls just before the curve but it was too late. The result was a derailment which left seven train cars and the locomotive toppled over, with some of the cars just inches from the river. Four people died in the accident and dozens were injured. The engineer of this train might have experienced a "microsleep."

There have been other catastrophes due to fatigue throughout recent history, including Three Mile Island, Union Carbide Chemical Plant in Bhopal, Chernobyl and the Exxon-Valdez. Sleep deprivation played a part in all of these tragedies. But what about everyday fatigue and sleep deprivation in the workplace? As Safety & Health Professionals, I am sure that we would all agree that impaired reaction time, judgment and vision along with increased moodiness and aggressive behaviors are not good for safety, but these are all effects of sleepiness and fatigue on employees who are sleep deprived. The level of risk of being injured at work increases greatly for those employees that are sleep deprived. It has been estimated that these highly fatigued workers are 70% more likely to be involved in accidents and those who report disturbed sleep are nearly twice as likely to be killed in a work-related accident.

So while the focus in Safety & Health tends to be compliance, risk management, prevention through design, and behavior-based safety, let us spend some time reviewing one of the "Hidden Sides of Health & Wellness" which is sleep deprivation. This is one area that affects everyone and can control the quality of our daily lives. More importantly, sleep deprivation and fatigue can have dramatic effects on our personal health, performance in the workplace, and can attribute to the root cause of many workplace incidences which send employee's home in a different condition as when they arrived at work.

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