The Dangers of Working Long Hours

Topics: Loss Control

Summary: The World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labor Organization (ILO) released a study regarding the number of heart attack and stroke deaths linked to working long hours. In this article, we’ll look at the risks workers face when working extended shifts, and what employers can do to help them avoid fatigue on the job.

What are the Risks of Working Long Hours?

When one thinks about a dangerous workplace, it’s common to picture employees using heavy equipment, working from heights, wielding sharp tools, etc. But there’s one risk that has led to an increase in deaths over the last several years: working long hours.

The trend to work long hours, or over the standard 40-hour workweek, has been on the rise for many years. And with the increase in people working from home throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, working longer hours has steadily become the norm. Around 9% of the global population works at least 55 hours a week.

OSHA reports that along with irregular and extended shift work, long work hours can lead to fatigue and physical and mental stress. Fatigue is the feeling one gets when rest is severely needed, and it can cause:
  • Sleepiness or weariness
  • Irritability
  • Reduced awareness that can lead to poor decision making
  • Concentration and memory issues
  • Lack of motivation
Fatigue can also lead to an array of health problems, from heart disease and musculoskeletal disorders to depression and poor eating habits. Additionally, when employees are fatigued, they are at an increased risk for illnesses and injuries.

What Happens When Working Long Shifts?

healthcare worker tired after working long hours
The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study with the International Labor Organization (ILO) that analyzed death and health associated with working long hours. Between 2000 and 2016, there was a 29% increase in deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease tied to long work hours. Working 55 hours or more a week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease compared to those working 35-40 hours per week.

These findings are startling, and other studies have confirmed the dangers of working long hours or extended shift work. In particular, it’s reported that employees who work extended shifts are 2.3 times more likely to report a car crash and 5.9 times more likely to report a near-miss accident.

The impact is especially true for those with shift work sleep disorder (SWSD), a condition that commonly affects individuals who work night, early morning or rotating shifts along with longer than normal hours. SWSD occurs when the circadian rhythms that regulate the sleep-wake cycle become misaligned. Those with shift work sleep disorder often suffer from insomnia, recurring sleep loss and excessive sleepiness when awake. The condition can impact work performance and put workers at a higher risk of accidents, both on-the-job and vehicular, as reaction time and alertness are greatly decreased.

Keeping Employees Safe from the Dangers of Working Long Hours

AmTrust’s Matt Zender, SVP of Workers’ Compensation Strategy, says, “Longer hours lead to both physical and mental fatigue and errors. Through some basic steps, employers can greatly reduce the impact of fatigue.”

OSHA offers prevention tips for employers to help employees avoid fatigue and the dangers associated with working long hours. These include:
  • Allow for frequent breaks. Ensure employee schedules are designed to allow them breaks to rest, and whenever possible, arrange schedules so workers can get the nighttime sleep they need to stay refreshed and healthy.
  • Address staffing issues. Issues like workload, being understaffed, unscheduled and scheduled worker absences, etc., can play a role in worker fatigue.
  • Help increase alertness. Make necessary changes like improving lighting and adjusting temperatures to help improve employee alertness.
  • Provide ongoing education. Training on the hazards, symptoms, and impact worker fatigue has on health can increase employee awareness of the issue. Also, provide training on the importance of quality sleep and the role exercise, diet and stress can have on the quality of life, and offer management techniques to help reduce the impact of fatigue.
  • Implement a Fatigue Risk Management Plan. A Fatigue Risk Management Plan can help manage worker fatigue. Several federal agencies and national organizations have adopted these programs into their existing risk management programs. Employers can check federal and state guidelines to help create customized plan for their organization.
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Zender adds, “The current labor shortage is heightening the dangers of working longer hours. Often the employees who are being asked to work the longer hours now lack the requisite skills and training that they might be able to fall back on in their fatigued state, and this can lead to very dangerous situations.”

Employees working long hours or extended shifts should take extra care to ensure a healthy sleep cycle. OSHA recommends:
  • Aim for seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep
  • Create a sleep schedule to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
  • When working a night shift, sleep within the last eight hours before returning to work
  • Design a comfortable sleeping environment that is quiet, comfortable, cool and dark
  • Adopt healthy lifestyle habits like exercising regularly, eating well and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Plan naps accordingly – sleep for less than 45 minutes or longer than two hours to ensure a complete sleep/wake cycle
  • Do not drink caffeinated beverages before bedtime
  • Keep a sleep diary and consult with a doctor when experiencing difficulty sleeping

Loss Control Services from AmTrust Financial

AmTrust’s Loss Control Department offers a variety of workplace safety resources to ensure employers understand how to provide a safe, healthy work environment for their employees. From industry resources to streaming training videos on a variety of topics, we are here to help protect your company’s most valuable asset – your employees. For more information about our loss control services, please contact us today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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