Working while tired has reached epidemic proportions in the workplace, according to a new report from the National Safety Council.

The council's Emily Whitcomb is the author of "Fatigue in the Workplace: Causes and Consequences of Employee Fatigue." She says fatigue impairment affects thinking and performance far before we are falling asleep.

"This report was really a wake up call for us."

More than 1 in 4 survey participants admitted they have fallen asleep at work in the past month. One in 6 admitted falling asleep while driving.

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"We found that nearly everyone in the survey was at risk for fatigue," Whitcomb says. About 97 percent of the respondents in the National Safety Council survey reported at least one risk factor. They also found that more than 37 percent of workers are sleep deprived. Those who are most at risk work the night shift, long shifts or irregular shifts.

Whitcomb says fatigue risk factors include shift work, high-risk hours, demanding jobs and longer than normal shifts.

"Our findings show that fatigue is pervasive in the workforce, and employees are struggling to deal with the consequences. Fatigue is expensive in terms of decreased productivity, absenteeism and health care costs."

The council has some recommendation for avoiding workplace fatigue.

"The most important thing that we can do is to prioritize sleep. Get seven to nine hours of sleep every day and be sure to talk to your doctor if you suspect that you have a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea or insomnia."

"Employers play a big role here, as well. Employers should educate themselves on the consequences of fatigue in the workplace and they should be educating their employee on fatigue and sleep help."

More information, resources, as well as a copy of the report is available at nsc.org/fatigue

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