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Why is Excessive Overtime Dangerous for Workers?

is excessive overtime

Overtime hours can be optional or mandatory, and the most obvious benefit for workers is that overtime leads to additional pay. This extra money can help pay off debt, allow families to take vacations, and be used for holidays and other expenses. Although companies may have the disadvantage of having to pay workers more, overtime can lead to increased levels of productivity. Having more services and products available to customers at a faster pace can help businesses earn more profits.

However, employees can also face disadvantages from working overtime, especially if it is excessive. Aside from having less time to spend with family and friends, they can experience burnout. The benefits of the extra wages can be overshadowed by stress and fatigue. Employees in these situations are often less productive and may dread going to work. Even worse, excessive overtime can be dangerous for workers.

What are Extended Hours?

A normal work week consists of eight-hour days that are worked consecutively over five days. Work shifts that add additional hours in a day or more consecutive workdays in a week are thought to be unusual or extended; this also includes evening work. Extended hours may be mandated in certain situations where there is a need to maximize limited resources. This could be a factor in unusual situations, such as:

  • Facilities opening after being shut down for long periods of time.
  • Emergency response to a health crisis.
  • Emergency response to a terroristic threat.
  • Construction workers needing to work at night because an office building is occupied during the day.
  • Product recalls that have to be addressed.
  • Special events, such as weddings, sports events, and concerts.

The populations most likely to work overtime and unusual hours are first responders, health care providers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, construction workers, service and hospitality workers, military personnel, and transportation workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have standards for regulating unusual and extended work shifts, however, it does have guidelines that can help workers and employers stay safe.

How Does Fatigue Impact a Worker?

Working longer hours can cause mental and emotional stress. Additional hours can interfere with a person’s internal clock, causing fatigue and the inability to concentrate. When sleep patterns are disrupted by night work, it is very difficult for people to acclimate to a new schedule. Often, the body will not adjust to working all night and sleeping all day; this does not offer full sleep recovery. Some people are able to adapt, but it can take weeks. Sleep deprivation can be dangerous since the fatigue it causes accumulates and becomes debilitating. Fatigue symptoms include the following:

  • Significant tiredness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Reduced alertness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Digestive disorders
  • Headaches

Can Fatigue Lead to Serious Health Problems?

Chronically fatigued employees are also susceptible to other illnesses, such as high blood pressure, mental injuries, repetitive stress injuries, back injuries, and substance abuse disorders. They can also experience chronic issues, like certain cancers, reproductive problems, heart disease, and musculoskeletal disorders. Employees with epilepsy and diabetes may find their conditions have worsened after working excessive overtime. Studies have also shown that these workers also have higher suicide rates.

It is not uncommon for overworked individuals to experience problems with their families and social lives. A study by Cornell University looked at a group of people who worked 50 to 60 hours a week. Ten percent of these workers claimed that they had serious work-family conflicts. Workers who averaged 60 hours per week had a higher percentage of these conflicts at 30 percent. Also, working overtime was a contributing factor to weight gain, depression, and tobacco and alcohol consumption.

Fatigue Causes Workplace Accidents

It goes without saying that fatigue is a major cause of workplace accidents. It is reported that workers are three times more likely to be involved in accidents after working for over 16 straight hours. Another study shows that employees who are working more than 48 hours in one week may be five times more likely to end up in a car accident while driving to and from work.

According to OSHA, accident and workplace injury rates are increased by 18 percent during evening shifts and 30 percent during night shifts when compared to day shifts. OSHA also claims that working 12 hours in one day causes a 37 percent increase for a work injury to occur. Additionally, worker fatigue and decreased alertness contributed to the worst industrial disasters in history, such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the space shuttle Challenger explosion.

Moreover, fatigued health care workers can cause patient-care errors, including administering the wrong medications or making mistakes during procedures. Tired workers in these settings also experience the risk of occupational illnesses, including unintended exposure to blood and bodily fluids.

How can Fatigue be Managed?

It is estimated that the annual cost of fatigue-related injuries in the health care industry is approximately $136.4 billion, so addressing the problem of worker fatigue is also in the best interests of employers. Well-rested, alert workers are more productive, satisfied, and much safer to have around. Some national organizations and federal agencies have put together fatigue risk management programs that may be helpful:

  • United States National Response Team: A group that provides practical information to disaster workers.
  • International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association: This association represents the global oil and gas industry. They help occupational health practitioners and industry supervisors recognize, understand, and manage workplace fatigue.
  • American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: They offer important concepts to develop a fatigue risk management system.
  • Federal Aviation Administration (FFA): The FAA has training and education programs, assessment tools, and guidelines for creating a workplace fatigue management system.
  • United States Coast Guard: The U.S. Coast Guard provides ways to control risk factors that are detrimental to shipboard safety and crew, and member performance in the commercial maritime industry.

How can Workers Combat Fatigue?

Better sleep hygiene leads to improved sleep quality. On average, everyone needs seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each day. The bedroom should be cool, quiet, dark, and comfortable. Blackout shades and noise machines can aid in this. It is also a good idea to avoid consuming heavy meals, caffeine, or alcohol several hours before bedtime. Regular exercise and a balanced diet are also conducive to better sleep.

People who must work evenings and nights should ensure that they have slept at least eight hours before they have to return to work. Naps should last less than 45 minutes or more than two hours; this permits for a complete sleeping and waking cycle. If sleep deprivation is still a problem, it is recommended to speak with a medical professional. If a worker is injured on the job, he or she is entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits. Speaking to a Workers’ Compensation lawyer after a workplace accident is extremely helpful. A lawyer will ensure that one’s rights are protected and will assist with filing a claim.

Wilmington Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Help Employers Suffering from Fatigue-Related Workplace Injuries

If you are facing health consequences because of work-related fatigue, reach out to one of our experienced Wilmington Workers’ Compensation lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC. We are dedicated to getting our clients the compensation they deserve. For a free consultation, call us at 302-888-1221 or complete our online form. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients throughout the state, including Dover, Newark, and Middletown.