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Ryerson lab finds overworking hurts people in the long-run

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By Neha Chollangi

Overworking fatigue can have extremely negative impacts on future work performance, Ryerson’s Human Factors Engineering (HFE) lab reports.

The effects of fatigue on performance is one of the many projects the HFE lab conducts. It started 10 years ago and researchers continue ongoing research on understanding how fatigue affects an individual and their work performance.

The research shows fatigue caused by overworking can lead to musculoskeletal disorders, which can affect the body’s movement by affecting the function of muscles, nerves and ligaments. In many service-oriented sectors, such as healthcare, overworking can cause major errors in terms of accuracy and timeliness.

As work intensifies, residual fatigue becomes a problem for workers. When a person works for a long period of time, they develop a level of fatigue that normally goes down when the person rests. Residual fatigue remains after rest and builds up over time.

“This is a problem as you start the new work at an elevated fatigue state—because you don’t recover fully,” said Patrick Neumann, principal investigator in the HFE lab.

“Without full recovery, the residual fatigue will just keep increasing week after week, job cycle after job cycle, until you are completely exhausted. This can lead to injury or burn-out problems.”

This is not only a problem in labour-intensive work fields. It also applies to students. The fatigue that builds up from commuting, staying up late doing work or attending several lectures in a day can result in failure to perform well in assignment or exams. Fatigue affects students in everything they do.

“Sleeping in class? Not good for learning. Eyes drooping? Not good for reading. Physically exhausted? Not good for riding your bike. Mentally worn out? Not good for thinking,” said Neumann.  

Students’ fatigue can build up rapidly over time due to the mental and physical exhaustion they are subjected to by constant work which demands their energy.

The HFE lab used a simulation model to conduct this research in order to understand how fatigue affects a person and the potential consequences it has. Simulation allows for researchers to observe topics concerning human performance with virtual tools.

Designers create virtual layouts of workplaces to allow the simulation of work aspects such as learning, fatigue and work overload. This approach allows researchers to understand the impacts of certain practices at work without having to use human subjects, which can take more time.

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