Construction Worker Fatigue: Mitigating Risk

Due to the constant movement of people and equipment on a job site, construction jobs demand high levels of alertness. Sleep deprivation and fatigue affect many aspects of worker safety including response time, motor control and decision-making ability, and can easily go unnoticed.

During an education session at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017, Todd Dawson, project manager for fatigue services at Caterpillar Inc., shared facts and myths about fatigue in the workplace and some methods and tools to prevent it. Though technology in this arena is advancing, company culture is just as important in mitigating the risks involved with fatigue.
Fatigue and What Causes It

Many factors are involved in mental and physical fatigue, according to Dawson. And no amount of coffee or energy drinks can compare to a good night’s sleep. Nevertheless, getting sleep, and the correct amount of sleep, is much easier said than done.

Between work, meals, household chores and a social life, modern schedules typically do not allow for ample sleep time. Working shifts late at night or early in the morning can make it even tougher. In other words, when it comes to sleep, the world is working against us. Fortunately, this is where Dawson and other fatigue study experts excel.

Methods to Reduce Construction Worker Fatigue

There are several ways to reduce or mitigate fatigue, besides getting more sleep at night: exercising, eating well and taking naps. These three behaviors are what make the difference between a well-rested and ready-to-work employee and a fatigued or groggy employee.

Still, there will be times when life throws you a curveball and going to work fatigued is unavoidable. This is where technology can help.

These technologies were created solely to avoid accidents resulting from fatigue:

- Cat® SmartBand

- Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool (FAST)

- Driver Safety System (DSS)

- Cat Smartband

Developed by a company called Fatigue Science and debuting in certain sectors of the military, the Cat Smartband is the newest technology in the fight against fatigue. The Smartband boasts 93% accuracy in its various measurements. Workers wear it 24/7 while it tracks things such as amount of sleep, quality of sleep, level of alertness and other measurable factors that determine fatigue level. Ultimately, it gives insight into who is going to be fatigued and when.

The Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool (FAST) works in a similar fashion. It is a program that examines previous and current employee schedules to see if the shifts are “working” relative to fatigue. It analyzes when people have reported being fatigued and uses this information to generate alternative schedules or break times.


The Driver Safety System is a newly designed observation system meant to keep track of and check on fatigued workers. It is a piece of equipment placed inside the cab of any construction vehicle, armed with a constantly operating camera pointing in the direction of the equipment operator. The camera records the operator’s face, on the lookout for eyes being closed for more than 1.5 seconds or looking away from the road for more than 4.5 seconds. If the camera observes one of these two behaviors, an alarm goes off and the seat vibrates rapidly. In addition, the camera clips this occurrence and sends it to a monitoring center where it is reviewed, after which a dispatcher calls the operator to discuss what just happened and see if they are okay.

Dawson asserted that the DSS and other technologies are not disciplinary devices, but rather cautionary and helpful ways to protect people at work.

Experiencing fatigue at work will exist as long as there are humans, but employees can feel better knowing that there is technology out there to back them up.

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