November 25, 2008 | Mark Paradies

Managing 24/7: Fatigue Risk & Employer Negligence

Interesting article from Circadian Technologies about fatigue, accidents, and post accident lawsuits.

Here’s the article:

An Accident Caused By Fatigue Can Lead To A Costly Lawsuit – Don’t Let It Happen to You

Imagine this:

John Q. Shiftworker, who works on an assembly line at 24-Hour Manufacturing, Inc., is scheduled to work Monday to Friday from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.  Over the weekend, his sister’s family visits from out of town.  Saturday night, John stays up past two talking with his sister, and is awoken by her noisy kids at 6 a.m.

Instead of catching up on his sleep on Monday morning, John gets up early and spends the day cleaning his garage.  At 10 p.m. he begins his 40-mile commute, regretting he bought a house so far from the plant.

Due to increased production demands, on Monday John’s boss asks him if he would mind working some overtime this week.  Thinking he could use the money to pay off his car loan and fearful that he will never be able to move to the day shift if he says no, John agrees. From Monday to Thursday, he works 12 to 14 hours each day.

After working 10 hours on Friday, John is looking forward to going home and sleeping.  But as he’s about to punch out at 9 a.m., his boss flags him from behind with a desperate look in his eye.

“Three people have the flu — I need you for a few more hours,” he says.  “We’ve got to finish this order today — it would mean a lot to me.”

Reluctantly, John agrees to work a complete double shift.  He clocks out at 3 p.m. and begins the drive home.  Exhausted and driving on a highway he’s used to being deserted, John falls asleep at the wheel, drifts into the oncoming lane and causes a five-car accident with two fatalities.  John survives but is badly injured.

Relatives of the victims file a civil suit against 24-Hour Manufacturing, saying the company should have known that John was a danger to other drivers when he got behind the wheel. “They should never have let someone in his condition drive,” a plaintiff’s attorney tells the local paper.  “This was clearly an accident waiting to happen.”

In court, lawyers for the company argue that John volunteered to work overtime and that it wasn’t the company’s fault John wasn’t well rested when he began his week.  Further, they tell the jury that because the accident didn’t occur on company property, the company cannot be held accountable.

“Mr. Shiftworker is an adult, and he made the decision to drive,” a defense attorney tells the jury.  “You can’t expect an employer to keep track of the hours of hundreds of workers.”

Who’s to Blame?

What would happen in such a case?

For the rest of the article, see:

http://www.circadian.com/pages/545_managing_24_7_fatigue_risk_employer_negligence.cfm

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