Long hours increase risk of ergonomics-related injuries

Long
hours, a lack of control over working patterns and working too many days in a
row can lead to an increased risk of ergonomics-related injuries, a US study
has concluded.

The
findings are particularly relevant as the debate intensifies over the UK’s
opt-out of the European Working Time Directive (WTD), which limits the working
week to 48 hours.

Circadian
Technologies studied 12,500 workers who worked extended hours, or outside the
hours of 7am to 7pm.

A
total of 30 per cent of male and 41 per cent of female workers reported chronic
or frequent back pain, while 16 per cent of male workers and 27 per cent of
female reported similar levels of wrist pain. Workers who faced a high mental
workload and increased domestic workload had more neck and shoulder
musculoskeletal disorders.

Disturbances
in sleep affected pain and negatively impacted on the time it took a worker to
return to work after suffering a soft-tissue injury, such as lower back pain.

Yet,
the study also found that 12-hour schedules were not inherently more dangerous
for employees.

Employees
who reported little or no influence over their work schedule had significant
increases in ergonomic injuries of the shoulders, hips and knees.

“We
have long known that long hours, high fatigue levels, and work schedules that
fail to account for human physiological needs are linked to a 20 per cent
increased rate of workers’ compensation claims among facilities with
extended-hours operations,” said Kirsty Kerin, report author and Circadian
ergonomics specialist.

The
study comes as the TUC has called on the European Commission (EC) to end the
ability of individual firms to opt-out from the WTD. The EC has been consulting
on the future of the opt-out.

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