American Workforce is Overworked and Undersupported

Nov. 20, 2002
A new study of shiftworkers finds employees are at an increased risk for accidents, injuries and performance errors due to low staffing and forced overtime.

A new survey from Circadian Technologies Inc. found management actions taken during the 2001-2002 economic recession have significantly challenged 24/7 operations, stretching staffing levels to dangerously low levels.

"The [2002 Shiftwork Practices] survey underscores the challenges posed by record levels of overtime, increasing risks due to human-error accidents and limited workplace provisions for the unique needs of those in 24/7 shiftwork positions, such as childcare, employee training and rest facilities," said Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, president and CEO of Circadian Technologies Inc. (CTI). "Addressing these demands should be an early priority in the recovery cycle or it will hamper business recovery."

Managers from 623 facilities, representing nearly 120,000 employees, participated in the survey. Responses accounted for a range of 24/7 operations, including manufacturing, process production, utilities, public safety, health care and service industries.

The survey results reflect insufficient staffing, higher overtime levels, increased human error-related accidents due to stress and overwork, limited employee involvement in shift schedule changes and inadequate childcare, training and workplace napping provisions for those who work non-traditional hours. Key results include:

  • Overtime: The number of shiftworkers working more than 400 hours of overtime each year has increased by 45 percent since 2000.
  • Holdovers: Seventy-three percent of facilities reported using holdovers, where the shift length is increased or doubled, to cover necessary overtime. Other studies have already demonstrated that mandatory overtime is costing U.S. employers $150 billion per year in stress and fatigue-related problems.
  • Shift differential: Employees working evenings and nights are paid an average shift differential (additional pay above the hourly base rate) of 84 cents per hour, which is nearly 35 cents higher than in 2000.
  • Overwork: Employee fatigue, a direct outgrowth of overwork and work stress, has increased 101 percent since 2000, while the number of workplaces reporting no employee fatigue has decreased by 52 percent.
  • Childcare: Only 1 percent of companies provide on-site 24-hour childcare, while 69 percent of managers have not investigated the availability of extended-hour child care in their area.
  • Napping: Forty-four percent of companies permit napping in the workplace, down 4 percent since 2000.
  • Benefits: Ninety-three percent of 24/7 companies do not provide human resources (HR) coverage outside the traditional hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., excluding up to 50 percent of employees from HR support during working hours.

"The survey results highlight the importance of innovative scheduling, training and workforce optimization strategies in 24/7 workplaces," remarks Dr. Kirsty Kerin, survey research scientist at CTI. "By not addressing the risks inherent to all shiftwork operations, managers face increasing costs and liabilities due to performance, safety and health deficiencies."

A comprehensive report of the results of the 2002 Shiftwork Practices Survey is available from Circadian Technologies. For more information on how to get your copy of the 2002 Shiftwork Practices survey, contact Dr. Kirsty Kerin at (781) 676-6911 or [email protected].

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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