Sleep – it is important

photolinc June 5th, 2013

Are you getting enough sleep? Sleep deprivation is a common problem in modern society where a culture of 24/7 has developed. Our need to be on the go well into the evening seems to be responsible for the fact that sleep has crept to the bottom of our priority list.

What we don’t seem to realise is the danger a lack of adequate and quality sleep has for our overall health.

Determining exactly how much sleep is adequate can vary between individuals and factors such as, age and activity levels will have an impact on the optimum level of sleep required. The general consensus is that adults require between 7 to 8 hours of shut eye each night to stay healthy.

Sadly, not many of us seem to manage 7 to 8 hours per night. Due to our busy lifestyles we tend to leave a part of our ‘to do’ list until the end of the day. Television, the internet and family commitments are some of the reasons people find getting to bed on time a challenge.

Whatever the reason, research and most medical professionals agree that:

  1. there is not enough public awareness regarding the importance of sleep
  2. sleep deprivation carries with it serious risks to our health and safety

If you are not convinced as to the importance of sleep, here are some of the effects associated with a lack of adequate sleep:

  • loss of quality of life
  • risk to safety
  • compromised ability to perform at work
  • compromised cognitive function
  • loss of memory
  • slowing of response times
  • loss of ability to make complex decisions
  • risk to overall mental health
  • risk of weight gain
  • increased risk of heart disease
  • increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Alarmingly, as a society we have accepted sleep deprivation as the norm. The impact is even greater if we spread this over the spectrum of public health and our workplaces. One of the major issues is that sleep deprivation often goes unrecognised, but it only takes 1 to 2 hours of inadequate sleep over 2 consecutive nights to begin having an effect. Over a longer term, you may feel irritable, sleepy during the day, emotional and unable to make decisions.

In the United States, a recent article (The Wall Street Journal, Monday May 20, 2013) stated that 50 million American’s self-reported an insufficient amount of sleep. Dr W. Christopher Winter, medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Va., concluded that it may not be as simple as catching up on lost sleep, but that scheduled naps are a better way of combating the sleep deprivation cycle.

Scheduling naps may not be a possibility for many people especially as work often does not allow us this luxury. So what are the implications for workplaces when it comes to sleep deprivation?

One very well-known workplace disaster that had a huge economic impact and attributed to a major human and environmental cost was the nuclear reactor meltdown in Chernobyl, Ukraine (April 1986). Sleep experts believe the accident was partly a result of worker fatigue. Although this accident is at the very top of the spectrum it serves as a warning to us all that sleep deprivation increases the risk of workplace accidents.

The Australasian Sleep Association Response to “Australia the Healthiest Country by 2020” reported that not enough is being done to raise awareness regarding the dangers associated with sleep deprivation.

The Deliotte Access Economic Report “Re-awakening Australia – The economic cost of sleep disorders in Australia, 2010”,  estimated sleep disorders and sleep deprivation cost the nation more than $5.1 billion per year. Disorders such as Sleep Obstructive Apnoea (SOA) weigh in very heavily as a major area of concern, however inadequate sleep duration is a major contributor to this figure. Getting inadequate sleep is often a lifestyle choice.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians reported that 17 hours of sustained wakefulness is associated with a psychomotor impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05%. This increases to 0.08% for 24 hours of inadequate sleep.

Most of us wouldn’t get into a car with someone who has consumed enough alcohol to tip them over the legal limit, yet we may inevitably drive with someone who is fatigued, it is little wonder that up to 20% of motor vehicle accidents occur as a result of driver fatigue and most of these are single car accidents.

We are still a long way from knowing the exact impact fatigue has on work performance but there is evidence to suggest that poor performance in some sectors has grave consequences. A simple solution for most would be to just get enough sleep.

© SRC Solutions 2013

The links below provide additional information on this topic.

The WorkHab ® Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) is a unique model when it comes to functional capacity assessments.

Evaluators are required to be allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists and exercise physiologists that have undergone comprehensive training to become a licenced WorkHab ® FCE System Evaluator. They are also required to complete ongoing training annually to renew this licence.

The key benefit of these evaluations is that they provide workplaces with clear and objective guidelines regarding an injured worker’s ability to carry out the physical components of their duties. They not only rely on observations made by the evaluator and reports made by the worker during the assessment, but also the physiological response.

A series of activities are carried out during the assessment including:

  • a grip test
  • cardiovascular fitness test (step test)
  • postural tolerance tests (sitting, standing, squatting and kneeling)
  • safe maximum lifting capacity
  • endurance lift evaluation
  • safe maximum carrying capacity evaluation
  • job specific tasks as required
  • manual handling analysis

At completion of the assessment, the data collected is entered into the WorkHab ® specific software which is used for reporting purposes. A comprehensive written report is provided which will outline the functional limitations (if any) both physical and in some instances psychosocial.

Some of the possible limitations which can be identified include, fear avoidance behaviours, anxiety, depression, workplace issues, physical impairments, poor manual handling techniques and a sensitive nervous system. Identifying these issues can be a valuable tool for workplaces and rehabilitation coordinators as it allows them to address these limitations specifically.

We have found that a FCE is best utilised after a Workplace Assessment or Vocational Assessment (VOC) are completed. The reason being is that the evaluator can look at what opportunities have been identified in a VOC Assessment  for example, and match the physical capabilities of the worker to these opportunities.

A FCE can provide a workplace with realistic and objective results which reduce a ‘hit and miss’ approach to return to work, in particular when developing rehabilitation programs, this in turn allows for better outcomes for the worker that are not only safe but sustainable.

© SRC Solutions 2013

Staying healthy at work

work life balance Stuart Mills May 7th, 2013

As we move into winter and the shorter days, staying fit or ‘fitting in’ exercise becomes a bigger challenge for most working people.

As a WHS organisation much of our time is spent consulting and helping other businesses and organisations ensure a safe, healthy and productive workplace for their staff. It got us thinking about how, as an organisation, we look after ourselves?

We are very conscious of the importance of our worker’s health and wellbeing and this is why we are taking on a new and comprehensive approach planned with organisational participation to address our health as well as our broader working environment.

We have run health and wellbeing programs in the past such as the 10,000 steps program, lunch information sessions and flu vaccinations. What we have found, like many organisations is that the traditional approach to offering a few healthy initiatives ‘here and there’ are good, but can be relatively ineffective. This is because these initiatives over a longer period tend to be taken up by already committed and healthy workers.

Our approach requires strong management support and looks to integrate a maintainable program that reflects worker priorities. This can present a host of difficulties, especially because as individuals we differ in our needs and approaches to sustaining a healthy lifestyle.

Our first step was a preliminary assessment of our workforce through an anonymous on-line survey to identify individual worker interests and issues. Analysis of this information has helped our team to begin developing activities that best suit our demographic profile.

Although it is still in its infancy; our ‘Healthier at Work’ initiative looks at providing our workers with the opportunity to participate in various activities and information sessions that will reflect their needs as well as the organisation’s goals.

Following are the key factors in ensuring this program works:

  • Strong management commitment and support, through organisational policy
  • Planning to get worker involvement and coordination of the program, allocation of a specific role to oversee this function
  • Action planning, developing strategies to support a healthy workforce and a health promoting workplace that match the outcomes of our survey including worker input
  • Providing a solid program which will be overseen and run by a newly set up Healthy Work Steering Group (HWSG)
  • Evaluation and review of our action plan

Having clearly identified goals and targets which are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART) will help us to ensure our program meets a successful outcome.

The goal of this approach is to build programs, policies and practices that will work over the long term to encourage sustained worker healthy lifestyle changes. We are targeting physical activity, healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight and improving our stress management including attaining that sometimes elusive, ‘work/life balance’.

The other potential benefit is to build and keep positive morale, in turn creating a good working environment and culture. We aim for worker participation, inclusion and long-term commitment. But above all, our goal is to have fun and maintain great working relationships with our colleagues.

Thank you to Bev Gow-Wilson who has kindly supplied the information for this feature and Julie Campbell and Natalie Baldwin for their participation in helping this initiative take shape.

© SRC Solutions 2013