Resources & Insights

Study Links Lack of Sleep to Greater Risk of Injury in Construction

November 6, 2019

Scott Carlson,
VP, Insurance Advisor

We all know that few of us are getting enough sleep, but the problem appears to be leaving construction workers at greater risk of injury.

Researchers at Colorado State University said respondents suffering from insomnia on average experienced more “cognitive failures” – such as lapses in attention, memory or action – at work compared to coworkers who were sleeping better.

These cognitive failures were related to an increase in minor injuries and a reduction in required and voluntary safety behaviors.

Among the cognitive failures:

  • Not remembering correct work procedures or if equipment was turned off.
  • Unintentionally pressing a control switch on machines.
  • Stopping or starting the wrong machine unintentionally.
  • Daydreaming instead of listening to a co-worker.

“Organizations, especially safety-sensitive ones like construction, should care about their employees’ sleep because it can impact the safety of the workplace and put workers at risk,” Rebecca Brossoit, study co-author and a CSU graduate student, said. “There’s a business case for caring about sleep.”

Optimal sleep for most people ranges between seven and nine hours a night.

The National Sleep Foundation notes that one of the professions where sleepiness poses the greatest risk is the medical field. When on-call medical residents work overnight, they have twice as many attention failures, commit 36 percent more serious medical errors and report 300 percent more medical errors that lead to death than those who work a 16-hour shift, the NSF said.

Not incidentally, sleep loss is a money-losing problem, too.

A study by the RAND Corp. estimated that insufficient sleep costs the U.S. economy $411 billion a year. Beyond the costs of diminished performance and productivity, experts pointed to fatigued workers’ greater use of health care resources, as well as higher workers’ compensation and other insurance rates.

Beyond cognitive failures, those who don’t sleep adequately are more prone to obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Employers are beginning to try to tackle the problem in various ways, including establishing fatigue risk management systems, which can mesh well within existing safety programs.

An FRMS can include employee education and screening for sleep apnea.

Limiting shift work and long hours also can help. If 12-hour days can’t be avoided, then giving workers more time to rest between workdays should be the goal.

Other scheduling goals include:

  • Minimizing overtime, especially forced overtime.
  • Avoiding permanent placement on night shift and keeping consecutive night shifts to a minimum. (One insurance company study found that workers’ injury risk grew with each consecutive night shift, from 6% higher on the second night to 17% and 36% greater on the third and fourth nights, respectively.)
  • Offering workers as much flexibility as possible so that, if possible, they can pick their own start and stop times.
  • Scheduling demanding tasks when workers are most alert, such as during the first half of a long shift or night shift.
  • Ensuring workers take frequent breaks during each shift – especially when they put in longer hours, work nights or perform demanding tasks.

We know that workers are more effective when they get the sleep they need. Companies that do what they can to help can expect to reap the rewards of a well-rested workforce.

Scott Carlson is a Vice President at CCIG and leads the firm’s construction practice. Reach him at or 720-212-2040.

CCIG is a Denver-area insurance, employee benefits and surety brokerage with clients nationwide. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We help you manage your long-term cost of insurance with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.

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