An early 2021 inspection of an Eli Lilly pharmaceutical plant in Indianapolis led to the FDA issuing a Form 483. The inspectional observations that were listed in the form included problems with environmental monitoring, microbial contamination prevention procedures, and root cause investigations related to glass vial breakages. Another issue noted by FDA inspectors was employee fatigue, which is what we’re going to focus on in this article.
The Indianapolis case highlights the importance of putting engineering controls and procedures in place to detect and reduce employee fatigue. While it may seem like a mundane topic, the consequences of fatigue in the workplace are significant, and to a large degree preventable. The National Safety Council estimates that fatigue costs businesses roughly $136 billion, or between $1,200 to $3,100 per employee, per year, due to decreased productivity and accidents. 13% of workplace injuries are estimated to result from fatigue, a particular concern for workers in hazardous environments like warehouses and manufacturing facilities.
An interesting 2018 study used wearable sensors to monitor the physical movements and habits of workers at a manufacturing facility as they became fatigued over a 3-hour period. Here, researchers observed changes in gait and posture as workers became fatigued, leading to decreased productivity and risk of accidents.
Besides working in a hazardous environment, warehouse employees are more commonly fatigued when they work night or rotating shifts, and perform physical tasks for extended periods of time. In this article, we’ll cover five ways to reduce fatigue with a focus on environmental monitoring.
For large, complex warehouses, or for operations with multiple buildings, the most efficient and scalable environmental monitoring solutions are cloud-based systems like DicksonOne. In this type of system, a network of remote, automated IoT sensors continuously upload environmental data to cloud storage, where it can be accessed in real time from anywhere.
This approach improves efficiency and reduces unnecessary burdens associated with data collection from onsite employees. In the following sections, we’ll break this down into a few specific tips.
1) Automate your environmental monitoring system
Thorough environmental monitoring requires extensive data collection and record-keeping, particularly in highly regulated industries, like pharmaceutical manufacturing, vaccine distribution, and others. In older systems, that could mean manually checking and recording temperatures on paper logs, or frequently downloading temperature records onto USB to transfer them to a central storage location. Sites that are still using chart recorders require employees to perform additional maintenance, like changing paper and pens, and archiving paper charts.
These represent unnecessary additional tasks for onsite staff. By using an automated, remote monitoring solution, environmental data is seamlessly uploaded and archived in cloud-based storage.
Switching to an automated system reduces the number of tasks that need to be done by onsite staff, allowing them to focus and reduce multitasking, responding to the monitoring system only when an alarm is raised. In addition, automating data collection means that no critical data will be lost due to human error.
2) Maintain optimal temperature and humidity
OSHA recommends an indoor temperature of 68-78 °F, while a relative humidity of 30-50% is considered comfortable. The higher end of the temperature range might be better, with one study showing that workplace errors decreased by 44% when the temperature was increased from 68 to 77 °F.
Working in hotter or colder conditions means that the body has to use extra energy to maintain temperature, causing fatigue and leaving less energy for the brain to use on higher level tasks. The best way to ensure a safe, comfortable environment is to continuously monitor the ambient conditions in your warehouse.
3) Optimize alarms
In other blog posts, we’ve talked about alarm fatigue, which is a condition where excessive alarms lead to them being ignored or silenced. This is especially dangerous in healthcare settings, but it can be harmful in any workplace where employees need to respond to equipment alarms. In the context of environmental monitoring, these could be alarms from ambient temperature monitors, or equipment being used to control the temperature or humidity of freezers, refrigerators, or other controlled storage spaces.
Setting up your environmental monitoring system to use custom alarms can help to alleviate fatigue in a couple of ways. First, when using cloud-based monitoring software, alarms can be targeted so that only the relevant responders are notified. For example, an alarm indicating a refrigeration equipment breakdown can be sent to local support staff. Wider scale or more severe issues can be escalated to management. These alarms can be sent by phone call, email, or SMS text, rather than simply an audible or visual alarm that requires intervention by onsite staff.
Second, the alarm triggers themselves can be set based on historical knowledge of when a problem is actually occurring, reducing the number of nuisance alarms. In this way, custom alarms reduce fatigue by eliminating unnecessary distractions.
4) Improve the efficiency of movement and storage of materials in the warehouse
A well-designed environmental monitoring setup can improve the efficiency of your operation, reducing wasted energy and fatigue on the part of warehouse workers. One element of this is thermal mapping, where the temperature and humidity of a storage space is thoroughly measured over 3D space and time, including measuring the effects of things like door openings and closings, shift changes, and other potential disruptions.
Thermal mapping helps to determine the optimal storage locations for sensitive items and to develop protocols to safely move material around the space. After mapping, ongoing thermal monitoring ensures that these conditions are maintained.
While mapping and monitoring are primarily focused on reducing product waste and protecting consumer safety, it also reduces the amount of energy wasted by employees by improving the efficiency of your operation.
5) Make fatigue prevention part of your company’s safety culture
The connection between fatigue and workplace injuries we discussed earlier means that fatigue prevention needs to be an integral part of a comprehensive safety plan.
Some ways that a company can do this are:
- Making sure that employees are taking their breaks and meals to rest and recharge
- Setting appropriate goals and quotas, on an individual per shift and company wide basis
- Optimizing other environmental conditions like lighting and noise levels
- Making sure that supervisors are trained to recognize the signs of fatigue, particularly chronic fatigue
Fatigue is a significant cause of reduced productivity, and is a particular concern for warehouse workers since it has the potential to increase accidents and injuries. There are several practical ways that warehouse managers can reduce fatigue, a number of which involve using a well-designed, automated environmental monitoring solution.
Want to learn more about DicksonOne, our cloud-based environmental monitoring system, or have other questions about monitoring warehouses, production facilities, or other critical areas? Contact the experts at Dickson.