A Matter of Time | Reducing Risks of Working Long Hours

Workers with long shifts or work hours often have increased physical demands on the job and do not get enough sleep. These conditions can impair work performance and increase the risks for accidents and injuries. In studies, working 12-hour shifts has been shown to increase the risk for accidents and errors by 28% over working 8-hour shifts. Longer shifts which include physical demands can increase the stress on muscles and joints, increase injuries, and accelerate fatigue. Preventative measures can be taken to reduce risks, such as modification and redesign of tasks, tools and equipment to lessen physical stress and fatigue.

Also, workers with physical duties should ensure they stretch, vary their posture, and move frequently. Workspaces and worker symptoms need to be evaluated often to determine the protective actions that should to be taken.

Another major concern with long work hours is that most people require 7 – 8 hours of sleep per day to perform well mentally and physically. Lack of sleep can produce performance issues similar to alcohol intoxication and also can contribute to many chronic illnesses. It’s important for workers to be aware of their sleep needs and watch out for warning signs that fatigue is taking over: Loss of focus; excessive blinking; eye-rubbing; yawning; slurred speech; head dropping; eyes closing involuntarily; irritability; reduced coordination; and jumbled thoughts.

When workers feel drowsy or notice these warning signs, they must make it a priority to protect themselves and others. For minor fatigue, a short break may be all the worker needs. When a worker is more fatigued or drowsy, they should stop driving or performing other critical activities, drink caffeine if appropriate, and/or find somewhere to nap or sleep. Naps as short as 15-30 minutes can help increase alertness.

There are several additional measures that can be taken to reduce risks. Workers should have at least 10 consecutive hours off-duty per day so they can sleep for 7-8 hours. During demanding work, brief rest breaks every 1 – 2 hours can help with fatigue levels. Examine workloads to determine if additional staff should be added and shifts shortened. Plan at least one full day of rest per week per worker. Although long work hours increase the risks of injury and accidents, awareness of the issues and implementation of preventative safety measures can help reduce those risks.

For additional information, tips, and strategies, NIOSH offers a free 30-minute online training presentation for Emergency Responders with long work hours.

Date Posted: 08-17-2015
Tags: 12 hour shift, osha long hours, osha safety topics, osha safety training, osha workplace safety,
Categories: OSHA Safety,