Custodial work is labor intensive. There is a lot of walking, lifting, pushing, pulling and bending required in any given shift. As a result, sleep deprived or not, workers are more apt to face fatigue throughout their workday.

“Worker fatigue will continue to be a challenge,” says Crowe. “The key in most cases, is an engaged, knowledgeable, caring supervisor who monitors their crew and makes adjustments as necessary.”

Each person handles physical activity differently, so a manager should fit the job to the person as much as the person to the job. Consider manipulating the work schedule so tasks that require heavy physical labor or intense concentration are performed at the beginning of the shift.

Reducing physical fatigue can be accomplished by allowing frequent breaks. Craddock says managers should allow for 10-minute breaks after every 50 minutes of work. Allowing workers even a short break can go a long way in boosting productivity.

Providing proper tools is also an important factor in reducing physical fatigue. Some cleaning operations pair ergonomic equipment with their workers to reduce wear and tear on their bodies. Craddock recommends managers also get classroom certification on proper lifting and vacuuming techniques that will minimize fatigue.

“Try to vacuum for eight hours — your back, shoulders, elbows and wrists all start to hurt,” he says. “If you find a piece of equipment that is comfortable and show staff how to use it properly, with very little body motion, they’ll have less fatigue in the workplace.”

Other measures that can be used to mitigate fatigue and the risks associated with shift work include avoiding quick shift changeovers, such as having custodians finishing at 11 p.m. and then reporting for work the next day at 7 a.m.

Managers should also control overtime, shift swapping and on-call duties. And, whenever possible, limit shifts to no longer than 12 hours.

It is also important to set shift rosters ahead of time and avoid sudden changes so workers can plan for leisure time. Where split shifts are used, arrange timing so sleep of workers is not disrupted due to the times they are required to work. And allocate shift workers consecutive days off, including some weekends, depending upon their fatigue risk level.

Managers should also consider the time it takes for workers to travel to and from work. Many custodial workers use public transportation so it’s important to take these schedules into account when setting shift times.

It is up to management to be on alert and aware of an employee’s personality changes, or changes in behavior that could indicate fatigue. Addressing the issue and correcting it will always be a better resolution than ignoring it. Besides the employee’s health, the safety of the employee and those who work with and around him/her is a major concern.

“Not addressing the obvious signs of fatigue and resolving the problem will lead to poor quality work, risk to employee safety and generally lower morale for the department,” says Cowan. “Managers must be alert and aware that fatigue is a real problem and confront it head on, then resolve it.” 

NICK BRAGG is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.