Legal Consequences of Working When Tired

People are waking up to the reality of how lack of sleep can affect the body and mind. Fatigue and sleep loss affect performance, concentration and the ability to understand and follow instructions.

Of course, the ultimate danger is to actually fall asleep and this is a distinct possibility, especially while driving or doing repetitive tasks. And it is very often these activities that are the most dangerous. Heavy machinery, directing operations, long distance driving may mean long periods when the mind is asked to stay alert but there is little requirement for the body to move and limited mental stimulation.

Most of us will have some experience of the feeling of drifting off while driving, or possibly at work. In some situations, a cup of coffee, some fresh air or a change of task will be enough to stimulate the mind and body back into full alertness. If this happens in a more challenging environment, such as driving or in a situation where an accident or damage could result, it is important to be more responsive to the symptoms of tiredness.

The Importance of Getting Enough Sleep

There have been a number of incidents where it has been proved that lack of sleep has been responsible, or contributed to a disaster or accident. This can be seen as contributing to the situation and prosecution can follow. This concept of ‘responsibility’ can be seen as similar to other areas such as drink or drugs (although at the present time there is no way of testing how much sleep a person has had).

Usually it is a subjective report or a detailed investigation of the previous days and nights that will show if someone has had enough sleep. But as individuals differ and most people would claim to have had enough, or be unaware of the amount of sleep they have had, this is difficult to prove.

Contributing to Accidents Through Lack of Sleep…

Employers can also be held responsible for contributing towards accidents if it can be proven that they are placing ‘unreasonable’ demands on their workers. This may be by asking them to do extra shifts, not giving sufficient breaks, ignoring signs of tiredness and badly planned and implemented shift work.

Other situations where sleep can contribute towards accidents is in the care of children and the less able. Falling asleep or being dozy makes people careless and lose concentration. Many parents will be familiar with what can seem like permanent exhaustion and the temptation is to fall asleep during a quiet moment, or even go for a drive to get some relaxation and peace.

Although the safety implications and issues of responsibility may seem obvious while you are reading this, when fatigue locks in you can be just too tired to care! Things that matter when you are alert lose their significance and importance and sometimes even your own personal safety can seem unimportant compared to a few hours sleep.

Taking Action

Although it is not always possible to change situations it is important to recognise the signs of fatigue and try and take steps to keep safe. In the long term taking more sleep and resolving any sleep problems is the answer and this may mean a visit to a GP or making some adjustments in personal habits and the environment.

In the short term, it is important to make sure that signs of exhaustion are not ignored. A nap, fresh air, caffeine and other tricks can help but the tiredness will come back until the sleep ‘debt’ is repaid.

Families, friends and employers should be aware of the signs of exhaustion and make sure that anyone suffering from insomnia or other sleep problems is encouraged to get professional help.

Stay safe. Make sleep a priority!!