industrial accidents and sleep debt

Industrial Accidents and Sleep Debt – A hostile combo

The news streams are chockfull with the bulletin of roadside and other accidents. We get to hear about major industrial accidents once in a while too. Such mishaps cause significant material loss. The loss of precious human lives is always irretrievable. It is surprising to know that most of the time the cause of industrial accidents lies in mere seconds of lack of judgment. The driver of an eight-wheeler does not suddenly lose control of his vehicle. Besides mechanical causes, often the reason behind a sudden and major calamity remains sleep debt.

Industrial accidents Surprised to hear that? Well, that is the truth. Sleep deprivation is not only responsible for lack of work performance but it also endangers your safety. Sleep deprivation

  • Causes Brain fog and clouds your thinking process
  • Increases your reaction time
  • Contributes towards poor judgment

One thinks that they can handle the task at hand when in reality they cannot. That is the most dangerous argument and that is the unfortunate moment when industrial accidents occur.

Industrial accidents and lack of sleep are closely interlinked as shown by many research studies. A study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School reveals

“Insomnia is responsible for 274,000 workplace accidents and errors each year, adding up to $31 billion in extra costs”

Out of the 10,000 participants in the subject study, those who had diagnosed insomnia recollected accounts of industrial accidents including

  • Vehicular accidents while on the job
  • Errors resulting in shut down of whole assembly lines
  • Accidents causing loss of at least $500

Let us take a look at some of the most conspicuous examples of industrial accidents.

Also Read: Catathrenia – Everything You Need To know

1: Chernobyl

The world’s worst nuclear disaster happens in Ukraine. According to MSN, the engineers assigned to the duty were working for more than 13 hours or more.

“In reality, the actual number of deaths caused by this accident is unlikely ever to be precisely known,” WHO reports (2006).

2: Three Mile Island

Pennsylvania, where human error was attributed to the causation of one of the largest nuclear disasters in the US. It happened in the early hours between 4-6 a.m.

3: The explosion of the Challenger in 1986

When the shuttle exploded to shreds seconds after its launch killing all the crew members. The investigation led to the findings that the certain launch managers had only a two-hour sleep before arriving at their workplace on that unfortunate morning. The Presidential Commission on the accident in its June 1986 report, writes

“The willingness of NASA employees, in general, to work excessive hours, while admirable, raises serious questions when it jeopardizes job performance, particularly when critical management decisions are at stake.”

4: Similarly, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and the American Airlines Flight 1420 Crash were also found to be caused by fatigue-related impaired performance thereby enlisting in industrial accidents.

What have we learned?

“It is human to err; and the only final and deadly error, among all our errors, is denying that we have ever erred”


The above-mentioned examples of industrial accidents associated with sleep deprivation are history. Lessons learned from history are of no use if not put into practice. They also signify the dilemma of increasing industrial accidents resulting from the sole reason for fatigue and exhaustion, a cause that can be mended in an effective way.

Sleep debt and Industrial accidents, the cause and effect

Enlisted are some verified effects of sleep deprivation that pose a risk to one’s safety at the workplace. And pose a risk for industrial accidents.

Industrial accidents 1: Lack of communication

Communication is detrimental to teamwork. One of the many causes of industrial accidents is inadequate communication between co-workers. Lack of sleep in an individual results in diminished tone and decreased intensity thereby delivering inaudible commands. Longer unintentional pauses that serve no purpose become more frequent. Mispronounced words lead to inaccurate deliverance of instructions or replies. Such non-coherent speech loses its effect.

2: Diminished performance

When effective communication is lost, the result is invariably always diminished work performance. This leads to an increased risk of industrial accidents. A non-vigilant worker is not only a bad asset for the employer but also poses a risk to himself. He is often unmindful of his own performance. When such an employer is underlined, it decreases his self-poise and confidence. That is not a win-win situation for anyone that is for sure. It certainly adds to the list of causes for industrial accidents.

3: Increased susceptibility to distractions

A sleep-deprived individual is more prone to distractions owing to the lack of focus and attentiveness. You will find such an individual missing their deadlines and keeping up with the work strategies. Sleep deprivation makes them less result-oriented. Such an easily distracted individual is highly susceptible to industrial accidents. The typical functional performance of a sleep-deprived person is compared to the 9th percentile of a person who actively participates and delivers his act.

4: Poor cognitive performance

Did you know that a sleep debt of 22 hours corresponds to a neurobehavioral deficiency that parallels 0.08% blood alcohol levels, a number denoting legally drunk status in the US? This results in increased chances of error regarding executing a task as well as one’s own safety. The result is industrial accidents.

5: Impaired motor skills

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (OEM) reports

“17 to 19 hours without sleep can drop performance levels to the equivalent of a 0.05% blood alcohol level and cut response speeds in half”

What does that mean? It means such an individual has

  • Poor hand-eye synchronization
  • Perception of depth
  • Balance awareness

So now you know why one-third of causalities among the construction workers occur due to falls. It represents a big percentage of industrial accidents.

6: Poor observation and decision-making ability

Sleep deprivation results in increased expectations due to a decreased reality check. Such an individual is ready to take unnecessary risks without any concern for loss. It creates a situation that invites industrial accidents. Brain imaging techniques have shown less active logical and rationale control areas as compared to the areas concerned with making hazardous decisions. A sleep-deprived person is low on malleable thinking, consistency of thoughts and actions, absorb new information, and plan innovatively. Sleep debt may cut back on your chances to become a leader.

7: Decreased memory, retentivity, and processing

Sleep affects our short-term memory particularly the retentivity process. Memory has three phases: acquisition, consolidation, and recall. Consolidation is the phase where short-term memory converts into the long-term and is updated with new knowledge and beliefs. This all happens while we sleep. With diminished focus and decreased learning ability, a sleep-deprived individual cannot upgrade his work strategies and therefore lags behind in work performance. This whole process makes him more prone to industrial accidents.

8: Disturbed mood and improper behavioral conduct

A sleep-deprived person is often unable to deal with stressful situations. Marked by unobtrusive nature and social withdrawal, improper behavior takes the form of outbursts in such individuals. It certainly disrupts the positive work environment. At the same time, it mars the work repute of an individual. Industrial accidents occur when the worker is impatient, easily irritable, lacks interpersonal relationships, has no work ethics, and fails to take initiatives, some of the important protocols at the workplace.

Take away message

If you are getting less than seven hours of sleep per night for consecutive for or five days, it creates a sleep debt of full night sleep. A single night’s sleep debt can cause a disturbance in your work performance for up to two weeks. Sleep experts call siestas as ‘cash for the brain’. Be a good accountant and cash-in on that dough. Work to cut back on industrial accidents.

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