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New: NIOSH virtual research center focuses on worker fatigue

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Washington — NIOSH has launched a virtual research center intended help combat workplace fatigue by targeting industry-specific activities.

The Center for Work and Fatigue Research has more than 50 scientists involved in ongoing projects and presenting new opportunities for research collaborations, according to Imelda Wong, a research scientist in NIOSH’s Division of Science Integration and the coordinator of the center.

“NIOSH has had a long-standing interest in the health and safety effects of nonstandard work hours, such as shift work and long hours of work, on the U.S. workforce,” Wong told Safety+Health. “The CWFR will extend upon our established work on health and safety risks related to nonstandard schedules to include other sources of fatigue, such as physically and mentally demanding work, comorbidities, hot environments, and other co-exposures.”

Wong said the center stems from the National Occupational Research Agenda’s Healthy Work Design and Well-Being Cross-Sector Council, which includes a Working Hours and Fatigue work group. In September, NIOSH continued its work on the issue with the Working Hours, Sleep and Fatigue Forum. The forum coincided with the 24th International Symposium on Shiftwork and Working Time.

“The new center will serve as a resource to NIOSH researchers who are interested in pursuing activities in this topic area and develop opportunities for cross-institute and cross-partner collaborations,” Wong said. “We will collaborate with researchers, policymakers and end users to develop practical, effective solutions to mitigate these risks.”

The center will continue to focus research on industries in which fatigue has been widely examined, such as health care and transportation, Wong said, while conducting activities in emerging areas such as agriculture, forestry and fishing.

 

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25% of employees in all industries worked more than 40 hours a week in 2019. Additionally, more than 15% of all employees work outside a regular daytime shift.

“Nonstandard shifts have been associated with numerous negative health outcomes, including an increased risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and psychological disorders, such as depression,” Wong said. “Disrupted or shortened sleep can impact cognition, increasing the risk for injuries to workers and their co-workers. Worker fatigue can also have a devastating public safety impact, particularly in occupations with high-risk consequences.”

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