Extended Hours Workers Face Ergonomic Setbacks

March 4, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Ergonomics-related workplace injuries are on the rise among employees in extended hours positions.

Three out of 10 male extended hours workers – those regularly working outside of the 7 am to 7 pm window – and 41% of female extended hours workers report “chronic or frequent” back pain and 16% of male and 27% of female extended hours workers say they suffer from “chronic or frequent wrist pain, according toCircadian Technologies, Inc’s Ergonomics Risks, Myths, and Solutions for Extended Hours Operations study.

Contributing to these ailments is limited employee involvement in schedule selection, long work days, and an excess of consecutive workdays says Kirsty Kerin, Circadian ergonomics specialist and one of the principal authors of the study. “We have long known that long work hours, high fatigue levels, and work schedules that fail to account for human physiological needs are linked to a 20% increased rate of workers’ compensation claims among facilities with extended hours operations,” Kerin said in a news release.

For example, the study points to damage that may be caused to muscle, ligament, or tendon by sleep deprivation. The report found six days of restricted sleep – four hours per 24-hour period – caused changes to the sleep architecture that are similar to the changes seen in people suffering from depression. Also, lack of sleep causes changes in several natural body rhythms of hormone secretion.

On average, extended hours employees sleep only 5.1 to 5.5 hours per day.

While 12-hour schedules do contribute to the disorders, the study found they are not the only culprits. For example, working two to four weekends a month was also shown to have a negative impact.

To help curb the detrimental effects on extended workers’ bodies, the study says the balance of work and home life is important. “Involving employees in schedule selection, training workers on managing the work-life demands of working extended hours, and revisiting workplace policies such as break rules and rest periods can significantly decrease the risk of costly accidents and injuries,” states Alex Kerin, Circadian ergonomics specialist and the other principal author in the release.

A summary of the report can be obtained by contacting Tracy Maddaloni at (781) 676-6900.