Fatigue Levels, Comp Claims, Rising in Extended Hours Operations

Dec. 11, 2003
Extended hours operations with employees on the job outside of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. have significantly higher rates of absenteeism and turnover, employee complaints of fatigue, and are showing workers' compensation claims as much as 15 times higher than at operations where workers do not complain of fatigue.

According to the sixth annual Shiftwork Practices survey issued by Circadian Technologies Inc., turnover, absenteeism and fatigue levels were particularly high at health care facilities.

  • Managers at 10 percent of extended hours facilities participating in the survey reported that their employees are severely fatigued, up from 6 percent in 2002. The survey found that workers' compensation claims are 15 times higher at extended hours operations with severe fatigue problems than at those reporting no fatigue problems. It also found that facilities banning employee napping, an often-effective measure against fatigue, have workers' compensation costs four times higher than those that do not prohibit napping.
  • Absenteeism rates, or the percentage of workers not on the job when they are supposed to be, averaged 5.8 percent in 2003 among extended hours workers, three times higher than the average rate of 1.9 percent for the entire U.S. workforce over the same period. Transportation, processing and health care industries have the highest absenteeism rates at 7.2 percent, 6.9 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively. After factoring in the costs of finding replacements, management time and overtime pay, employer costs for extended hours employee absenteeism average $3,490 per worker per year, compared with an annual average of $925 for daytime employees.
  • Average turnover in extended hours facilities was 10 percent in 2003 compared with 3.4 percent in all U.S. companies. The average cost to employers for recruiting and training an extended hours worker is $25,550, but it varies widely depending on the industry. The cost of replacing extended hours utility workers is the highest, with an industry average of $55,267.

Alex Kerin, Ph.D., a Circadian consultant and principal author of this year's Shiftwork Practices report, predicted that turnover and absenteeism for extended hours employees are likely to continue to increase in 2004 as the economy improves. "Employees displaced from daytime jobs during the recession may return to those jobs as the economy improves. But for operations running 24/7 or 24/5, retaining talented and highly trained individuals will be crucial to enabling them to fully benefit from increased consumer spending and order volume," he said.

Results from Circadian's latest survey are based on responses from managers at 550 extended hours facilities in the U.S. and Canada, representing more than 130,000 full-time and 28,000 part-time shiftworkers. Covering all industry sectors, it is the only survey tracking pay, productivity, safety, health and benefits for the approximately 24 million extended hours workers in the United States, half of whom are in white-collar occupations. This year's survey was expanded to determine benchmark rates for turnover, absenteeism and other key performance measurements.

"In continuous processing operations, much of the work is monotonous and performed in control rooms, but highly dangerous when something does go wrong," Kerin said. "Long hours for doctors, nurses and other health care practitioners can lead to fatigue-related judgment errors that may harm their patients. Transportation, which is the likeliest sector to experience fatigue-related accidents, has by far the most severe fatigue problems, with 27 percent of companies reporting severe fatigue levels. This too poses danger to both employees and passengers."

Turnover was 10.3 percent at facilities reporting moderate to severe fatigue levels compared with a turnover rate of 5.6 percent for operations reporting low fatigue levels in 2003. The study also showed a high correlation between high fatigue levels and higher workers' compensation claims. Facilities indicating severe fatigue problems reported that the average annual cost of workers' compensation per worker was $4,037. This compares with $2,240 for facilities with moderate fatigue problems and $981 and $276, respectively, for those reporting minor or no fatigue problems.

Kerin predicted that fatigue will become an even more pressing issue with the passage of legislation such as New Jersey's "Maggie's Law," enacted in August, which makes drowsy driving a criminal offense for which fatigued commuters may be held liable.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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