Why working long hours can be dangerous
- Regardless if your worksite is in an office, warehouse, construction project or in a vehicle, working long hours can be dangerous.
- View the risks of worker fatigue, from greater risk of stroke or heart attack to alcohol and drug abuse.
- Review ways as an employer that you can help protect your workers from worker fatigue.
Did you know that any workplace can become dangerous, even if there are no forklifts, sharp tools or working from heights? It’s true. Working long hours causes worker fatigue, a risk that’s lead to increased deaths over the past few years.
Working long hours is known to be responsible for about one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease. Worker fatigue is now established as the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden.
While a traditional workweek is about 40 hours, it’s very unrealistic these days, says Cleveland Clinic. Many of us have workweeks that go far beyond 40 hours. Reasons can include an overload of emails, being short-staffed and having a tough time creating barriers while working remotely.
What happens to your body when you work long hours
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worker fatigue led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 percent increase since 2000 (latest figures available).
The WHO study concludes that working 55 or more hours per 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 working 35-40 hours a week.
Consider these additional risks to the body when employees work long hours:
- A greater risk of stroke, heart attack and type 2 diabetes
- Chronic neck and back pain
- Headaches and eye strain
- Lack of good sleep habits, healthy eating and exercise
- Mental fatigue, slow reaction times and resulting errors
- Depression and loneliness
- Alcohol and drug abuse
Employees working 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, says Property Casualty 360.
Their article continues: “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.”
How can we protect employees from worker fatigue?
OSHA says employers can reduce the risk of worker fatigue in the workplace by:
- Examining staffing issues such as workload, work hours, understaffing and worker absences, scheduled and unscheduled, which can contribute to worker fatigue.
- Arranging schedules to allow frequent opportunities for rest breaks and nighttime sleep.
- Adjusting the work environment to increase alertness by improving lighting, temperature and physical surroundings.
- Training workers on the hazards and symptoms of worker fatigue, the impact of fatigue on health and relationships, adequate quality and quantity of sleep and the importance of diet, exercise and stress management strategies, to minimize fatigue’s adverse effects.
What should workers do to protect themselves?
OSHA provides these tips to promote healthy sleep:
- Make sure that your sleep period is 7-9 hours daily without disruptions.
- Try to sleep at the same time every day.
- Avoid drinks with caffeine prior to bedtime.
- If working evening or nights, make sure that sleep has occurred within the last 8 hours before going to work.
- If napping before work, make sure that the duration is less than 45 minutes or greater than 2 hours to allow for a complete sleep/wake cycle.
- Make sure that the sleeping environment is comfortable, cool, dark and quiet.
- Exercise regularly. Eat a balanced diet. Maintain a healthy weight.
- If you have difficulty sleeping, keep a sleep diary and talk to your doctor.
In these pandemic days where there’s a pronounced worker shortage, causing your employees to take up the slack and work longer hours, use these steps to deter worker fatigue and keep workers safe and healthy.
Agents, take a look at our Workers’ Compensation Program to add to your portfolio of insurance solutions.