Napping Could Reduce Farming Accidents

Attention all farm employees….. If you love to nap then here is the news you have been waiting for!

New research suggests that taking a 15-20 minute nap in the early afternoon could improve your reflexes, lift productivity, and significantly reduce the risk of accident or injury.

The research also suggests that fatigue faced by farmers is equivalent to having an above-the-limit blood alcohol reading. With this in mind grain and cotton growers are being encouraged to consider the benefits of taking, and allowing their employees to take, a post-lunch siesta.

Why consider naps? Research shows that managing health and safety in farm work will not only avoid farming accidents but it will also contribute to higher income and profit.

Statistics from Safe Work Australia revealed that from 2003-11 356 people died while working on a farm, accounting for 17% of all worker fatalities during this period.

Further, the death rate for farmers is 33% higher than that of the general male population. Most agricultural injuries and fatalities are linked to vehicles, plant and machinery and occur in the grains industry.

Whether or not these workers were suffering from fatigue at the time of their farming accidents is not known, but what can be suggested from the research is that fatigue, combined with the pressure to get the job finished, has proved a lethal combination.

Given the seasonal nature of farm work, and the pressure during peak periods (like harvesting) farming accidents and death are frequent – too frequent. Recently, there have been a number of incidents on farms with quad bike accidents as well as industry calls to address the alarmingly high rates of farm deaths.

So what is fatigue and what are the symptoms?

Fatigue is what you experience when you feel constantly tired. This is different from feeling drowsy, or sleepy after a busy day.
The symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Headaches, dizziness, blurry vision;
  • Slow reflexes and reactions, poor concentration;
  • Feeling irritable, moody and short tempered;
  • Aching, weak muscles;
  • Feeling tired all over or sleepy;
  • Micro-sleeps.

Fatigue management is a shared responsibility between employers and employees as it involves factors both inside and outside work . Employers are however responsible for using a risk management approach to manage fatigue.

If an employer fails to adequately manage fatigue and an employee is injured (for example, in a farming accident) then that employee may be able to bring a claim for negligence against their employer.

So what can those working on a farm or in agriculture do to manage fatigue?

Simple steps to reduce feelings of fatigue during high intensity work periods such as events like harvest, spraying or lambing include:

  • Taking short, timely breaks. A 15-20 minute nap in the early afternoon fits in with the body’s natural clock. A short nap in the morning will be less effective;
  • If you are working around the clock, try to take a longer break during the high-risk period for accidents and exhaustion – between 11 pm and 6 am;
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration will exacerbate feelings of weariness;
  • Use caffeine in moderation, but reduce your use in the hours before you need to sleep;
  • If you are feeling stressed before going to bed, try writing a to-do list for the next day;
  • Have the air conditioning on in the cabin of your machinery. Working in a cool environment will also reduce fatigue.

Employers too must do their part in managing fatigue. Management strategies could include:

  • Minimising early morning starts before 6am as workers have less time to get adequate sleep;
  • Allowing regular rest breaks;
  • Increasing supervision;
  • Allowing adequate rest periods between shifts;
  • Limiting overtime hours.

Fatigue is something that can affect anyone at any time.

Farm workers are perhaps more susceptible to such due to the long hours and high intensity work periods they perform, particularly when harvesting. There are however things that both employers and employees can do to limit their potential exposure to fatigue.

If such practices are followed then farming accidents leading to injury or even fatality are likely to reduce. While it is one thing for the research to suggest an early afternoon nap is beneficial to employees, it is another to actually convince your employer to introduce such a practice!

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