Ensuring Safety During Extended Workdays
By Scott Spence, Manager of Business Development, Safety Management Group (email)
When evaluating whether to use extended workdays, companies will normally consider a variety of factors – and worker safety should be one of them. Although extended workdays are not inherently more hazardous, some of aspects associated with them should be considered before making a decision.
Benefits and downsides.
Companies that use extended hours often report improvements in morale and job satisfaction. The additional time off can give employees a chance to feel more rested and take some of the “edge” off of work-related stress. However, there are also downsides. Having more days off may reduce worker familiarity with normal procedures. The fatigue associated with longer workdays can reduce alertness. And when workers use their free time in unhealthy ways, there may be a spillover effect involving greater fatigue in the workplace.
Is fatigue a problem?
Simply put, fatigue is the body’s way of telling you that you need to rest. Whether it’s caused by working too long, illness, or other factors, it isn’t a problem as long as the individual responds by getting the needed rest. But if fatigue is ignored, it can become worse, leading to loss of attention or judgment.
Researchers disagree as to whether extended workdays create more fatigue than standard days, so it’s tough to determine whether it presents a problem. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the degree of fatigue a worker experiences may be affected by many factors within the workplace, from the design of workstations to the quality of the air.
Does it affect safety?
Again, the answer seems to go back to whoever you talk with. While it might seem obvious that greater worker fatigue would result in more injuries, studies have come to different conclusions. One of issues that makes it difficult to study the issue of fatigue’s impact on safety is that it’s hard to measure and compare a worker’s degree of fatigue.
One area of concern is whether longer hours will expose workers to higher levels of potentially dangerous substances or hazards. In addition, personal protective equipment needs to be studied to ensure that longer use doesn’t impact its effectiveness or comfort. If eye protection becomes increasingly uncomfortable over time, workers may choose not to wear it.
What to think about
Since the jury is out on the safety-related effects of extended workdays, it’s very important that the specifics of the work be examined carefully before making a decision. Beyond making sure that the demands or environment of the job do not present additional physical hazards, companies should consider any mental and emotional demands. A job that requires intense concentration may be far more difficult near the end of an extended workday. Changing schedules or rotating tasks would be one way to address this.
Finally, if you do decided to move to an extended workday, be sure to monitor its effects on your workers’ safety and their overall health. If you begin to notice an increase in safety incidents, investigate more closely to determine whether they are actually related to the extended workday, and see what steps can be taken to prevent them from occurring. But if there is no discernable increase in incidents, new additional health problems, and morale is as good as ever, you’ve probably made the right decision for your company.