Thursday, August 18, 2005

British Overtime Blues

This article is cute. And Oh so European in thought. They are debating whether the UK should be opting out of the EU Work Time Directive that caps the work week at 48 hours. What will they want next? A EU Vacation Time Directive to require a month off every summer?

The discussion at least is based on a study of overtime and the increased risks of injury. This is very interesting in that they point quite quickly to the problem with the findings.
The study, based in the United States, looked at 110,236 job records and found that more than half of injuries occurred in jobs with extended working hours or overtime.

After adjusting for age, gender, type of industry and job, employees on overtime were 61 per cent more likely to sustain a work-related injury or illness.

Longer work days were shown to be more hazardous, but lengthy commutes had no impact on injury rates.

Despite a host of previous studies linking long hours to injuries and illness, two grey areas have troubled researchers. Do people who work long hours tend to work in hazardous industries, thereby skewing statistics? And do they have a greater chance of injury because they are simply at work over a longer period of time?

I could find no details on the relation of accident to severity either. I've worked at companies where getting a paper cut required documenting an accident report if you asked the site nurse for a bandage. (Lesson was to keep bandages in you car and don't talk to the nurse.)

Here's the shocking part of the article:
A spokeswoman for Unison, Britain's largest trade union, agreed, saying:

"This research underlines that when people are tired they are more likely to make mistakes and that can result in serious injury not only to themselves but to fellow workers."

I'm surprised they didn't demand reparations from any company requiring overtime.

I have a lot of questions on the study (which I can't locate). What occupations were studied? What were the percentages of each occupation relative to the aggregate total? I think an understanding of the methods and data are required to understand the finding. This looks to be a very complex environment to study, and I don't think the results are a simple relationship between overtime and injury.

1 comment:

Granted said...

It does sound like a better study is required based on the two questions they asked.

That said, there was a study of developers done. Their work does degrade over time, so that geeks pulling those marathon 48 hour sessions are actually introducing more error into their code, requiring more time to ferret out the errors, thereby reducing the efficiency pretty radically. In other words, work two 10 hour days with some sleep in between and you'll be more effecient, generating better code. Maybe the same applies to other industries.