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In the United States, a standard workweek involves eight hours of work per day, five days per week. Many people, however, work in jobs and industries where they’re expected to put in far more hours than the standard workweek. While there are laws regarding overtime pay, there are no federal laws limiting how many hours a person can work (except in certain industries). Many workers consider this a benefit because it means they can make more money. Employers like it because it means they can increase productivity levels. But at what cost? Overworked employees are at an increased risk of workplace fatigue, which in turn increases the likelihood of accidents and workplace injuries.


Fatigue is more than just sleepiness or drowsiness. It’s the body’s response to sleep deprivation, prolonged mental or physical work, or long period of stress and anxiety. Occupational fatigue may be caused by excessive workloads, long hours with no break, lack of sleep, or even returning daily to a high stress job or a hostile work environment. Fatigue can affect a person’s overall physiological and psychological health, leading to a lowered immune system, chronic tiredness, low motivation, irritability, appetite loss, depression, anxiety, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Additionally, fatigue can result in a number of symptoms that lead to injuries in the workplace, including:

  • Slower reaction times
  • Errors in judgement
  • Impaired hand-eye coordination
  • Blurry vision
  • Poor concentration
  • Decreased alertness
  • Disturbed balance
  • Reduced attention and vigilance
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with short-term memory
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors

Fatigue has a significant effect on workplace performance and safety.  Some research has even compared the effects of fatigue to those of alcohol intoxication. 


The impact of excessive work has been the subject of considerable research in recent decades. One study found that working in jobs with overtime schedules was associated with a 61% higher injury hazard rate than jobs without overtime schedules. Working 12 or more hours per day was associated with a 37% higher injury hazard rate, and working more than 60 hours per week was associated with a 23% higher injury hazard rate. While it’s natural to assume that these numbers would be lower if higher-risk industries were eliminated from the averages, the study concluded that the injury hazard rates were due to long work hours, and not the result of hours worked in higher-risk industries or occupations. 

Specific types of fatigue-related workplace injuries vary by industry, of course, but whatever the industry, a higher rate of accidents and injuries can be expected when employees are overworked and exhausted. In general, common workplace injuries include: 

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Slips, trips, and falls 
  • Falls from heights
  • Electrocution
  • Struck by objects
  • Entanglement
  • Workplace violence

Overtime safety limits and precautions are an important part of employer responsibility for keeping employees safe and healthy. 


While long workplace hours may be standard in some industries, during certain time periods, or in the case of emergency situations, employers are responsible for doing their part in ensuring that employees are kept as safe and healthy as possible. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that during overtime periods, employers provide additional breaks and lunches, and that, when possible, they increase the number of days worked rather than the number of hours worked.  While these recommendations are not laws (OSHA has no laws regarding hours worked), the U.S. Department of Transportation does regulate hours of service for both passenger-carrying and property-carrying drivers. 

Although some companies do have policies regarding overtime safety limits, they are often given only lip service and rarely enforced. In many cases, employers actively pressure employees to ignore the policies and work through pain and fatigue. When it comes down to choosing between workers and profit, all too often workers suffer. 

Injured workers have the right to benefits that will pay for their lost wages while they recover from a workplace injury. Fortunately, the  workers’ compensation system is set up to help relieve injured workers of the financial burden that accompanies on-the-job injuries. While it is possible to navigate the complex workers’ comp system on your own, doing so with the help of an experienced lawyer will increase your chances of getting the results you want and the benefits you deserve. 

San Diego’s best workers’ comp lawyers

If you suffer from job-related fatigue or have sustained an injury or illness due to a colleague’s fatigue-related accident, a workers’ compensation lawyer may be able to help you get benefits to pay for your medical expenses and lost wages. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call the Law Office of The Law Office of Matthew Russell at (619) 544-1506 today. 

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