Connection Between Overtime and Safety Might Be Overstated

In a study documented in the February 2007 edition of the Journal Of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Harris Allen Jr. PhD, Thomas Slavin MS, MBA, and William Bunn III MD, JD, MPH, determined that despite research to the contrary, there is no evidence that long work hours cause across the board adverse outcomes for employees. The researchers did say that when weekly schedules hit 60+ hours, workers did report new injuries and health problems, but these were mostly attributable to factors like prior poor health rather than to the long hours themselves.

The study was conducted by comparing information compiled in a database for almost 2800 workers at a heavy manufacturing plant. The researchers analyzed the effects of work hours on a broad range of health, safety and productivity outcomes. The unidentified company used in the study strongly encouraged employees to work overtime, but didn’t mandate it. Workers at the plant clocked an average of 43 hours per week.

The results of the comparison challenged the widely held belief that each hour an employee works beyond 40 hours increases health and safety risks and reduces productivity. In fact, the researchers didn’t find any negative effects until the 60-hour-per-week mark. And even when workers reached this mark, the only negative consequences the researchers found were an increased risk of workers’ compensation claims for hourly female employees with a history of such claims and new musculoskeletal diagnoses for older workers.

Furthermore, while employees in these two subgroups showed a higher rate of injuries and other health problems when they worked 60+ hours, employees with other job and demographic characteristics showed no additional safety or health problems when they worked schedules of 60 or more hours. In addition, employees who worked from 48 to 59 hours showed no increase in physical or mental health issues regardless of their job and demographic characteristics.

The researchers went on to note that their findings also challenged policies like the Working Time Directive established by the European Union to protect workers from exploitation by employers. While it addresses employment issues such as how many breaks employees can take, and how much time off they are entitled to, the directive’s most significant regulation is aimed at limiting the average working time for employees in the European Union to 48 hours a week.

The conductors of the study believe that policies like this one may provide an obstacle that keeps private-sector employers from being competitive. They felt that employers whose operations are structured in ways that are maximized when employees work overtime were especially hindered.

The researchers concluded that although work hours are a factor, they should be considered in conjunction with other factors that comprise the larger context within which employee health, productivity and safety outcomes are determined. More emphasis needs to be focused on prior health and other factors that may be exacerbated by the number of hours worked. These are better predictors of employee safety and lost productivity.

Make Christmastime Safety Time

One of the most anticipated activities of the holiday season is the decorating. The smell of a fresh tree, the glistening garland hanging from its branches, and the glow of candles all are synonymous with Christmas. However, trees and other holiday decorations can pose safety hazards if used improperly. Remember the following tips to keep your Christmas decorating merry:

·   Trees-If you buy a fresh tree, choose one with green needles that are hard to pull from the branch and that bend without breaking. The base of the tree should be sticky to the touch. Place the tree a safe distance away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources, and keep it away from high traffic areas and doorways. Mount the tree in a sturdy stand; fasten a large tree to the wall or ceiling with thin guy wires. Keep the tree stand full of water at all times.

·   Lights-Use lights that have the “UL” label. Check all lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Outdoor lights should be weatherproof, and fastened securely. Use no more than three sets of lights per extension cord. Don’t use lights on a metallic tree because the tree can become charged with electricity if the lights are faulty. Always turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house.

·   Candles-Never use lighted candles on a fresh tree, or near other evergreens. Stand candles in nonflammable holders and place the holders where they can’t be knocked over.

·   Trimmings-Use flame-retardant decorations. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles made from plastic or nonleaded metals because materials containing lead are poisonous if ingested by children or pets. Spun glass “angel hair” is flameproof; however, if nonflammable artificial snow is sprayed on it, the combination burns rapidly.

Also make safety a holiday priority in your gift giving, when selecting children’s toys. Recent recalls of toys with lead paint or other defects highlight just some of the issues to keep in mind about toy safety. The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers more guidelines to keep the kids on your holiday shopping list safe:

·   Don’t buy toy chests without safety hinges on the lids. Those that can slam shut have been blamed for 21 deaths during the past 10 years.

·   Select toys appropriate for the skills, abilities and interests of a child. Federal safety requirements concerning sharp points apply to all toys for children under age 8.

·   Make sure all instructions are clear to you and, when appropriate, to the child.

·   Toys with long strings or cords are not recommended for infants and very young children because they can cause strangulation. Never hang toys with long strings, cords, loops or ribbons in cribs or playpens where children can become entangled.

·   Discard plastic wrapping on toys immediately before it becomes a deadly plaything.

·   Check toys periodically for breakage and potential hazards.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!