Overexertion: Fatigue and Dehydration in the the Massachusetts Workplace

Every day in the United States, overexertion in the workplace results in thousands of trips to the doctor or emergency room. Overexertion can occur in any type of occupation, from seemingly benign office positions to highly physical construction jobs. Long-term effects can lead to temporary or permanent disability and, consequently, the inability to perform job duties. Even when physical symptoms are not debilitating, victims of chronic conditions often experience some level of depression.

The National Safety Council reports overexertion as the leading cause of workers’ compensation claims in the United States. Some of the most commonly recognized examples of overexertion include carpal tunnel syndrome and musculoskeletal disorders, often referred to as repetitive stress injuries. However, two examples of overexertion that are regularly overlooked are fatigue and dehydration.

Fatigue as a Workplace Hazard

Federal and state laws require employers to provide certain periods of rest for employees, depending on the length of the shift and the type of work performed. Without these necessary breaks, the impact of both mental and physical fatigue can become a workplace hazard. One of the most dangerous effects of fatigue is the inability to think clearly and react quickly and appropriately. This is especially important in occupations that require operating heavy machinery and driving, and for medical professionals and emergency personnel responsible for making life altering decisions. Research shows that employees who work in shifts have are six times more likely to be involved in a fatigue-related accident.

Certain causes of fatigue may be out of an employer’s control, such as detrimental sleeping patterns or the unhealthy lifestyle of an employee. However, the risk of fatigue is commonly increased by certain work-related factors including:

  • Excessive mental of physical exertion without appropriate access to food, hydration, or rest during the workday
  • Work scheduling that goes against the body’s natural bio-rhythms
  • Excessive and continuous cold or hot work environment
  • Monotonous or strenuous workload

Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe, healthy work environment. It is important that employers are consistently aware of potential cases of fatigue among employees, as well as any contributing factors. Workplace practices should be managed to minimize the onset of fatigue and maximize healthy work habits.

Dehydration in the Workplace

One of the most unrecognized factors of both fatigue and workplace hazards is dehydration. Recent studies of the effects of dehydration in the industrial field show similar negative effects on workplace safety as those produced by fatigue. Approximately 80% of Americans are consistently dehydrated throughout the workday. One study found significant decreases in visual motor tracking, reaction time, attention, and short-term memory among workers with dehydration levels of 2% of body weight. These symptoms can be extremely detrimental to workers operating hazardous machinery and healthcare workers responsible for calculating medication doses or making emergency decisions. However, office workers are just as vulnerable to dehydration-related health problems when they work excessively long hours and do not properly hydrate. Employers are responsible for ensuring adequate water supply for employees. Workers should have the freedom to attend to hydration needs when necessary.

Signs of dehydration include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle cramps
  • Lack of skin elasticity

Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Workers’ Compensation Lawyers

Some workers’ comp cases seem relatively clear cut from the beginning, such as those for injuries sustained in work-related slip and fall accidents. However, medical problems stemming from chronically unhealthy, yet subtle, work conditions may present more legal challenges. At Altman & Altman, LLP, our Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys are highly experienced in dealing with these kinds of cases. We have nearly 50 years of experience representing employees throughout Massachusetts. Our legal team will investigate every detail of your situation to plan the best strategy and help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.


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