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Extended-hours ops: Are workers getting proper rest?

November 22, 2004
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Just how productive is it to work into the wee hours? For Australia’s Members of Parliament, 14-hour shifts ending at the break of dawn, followed by as little as four hour’s rest before starting again, have prompted some Members to bring blankets and pajamas to work and to fall asleep on their benches, according to News Interactive.

Members from both sides of the bench call it “madness,” to debate important legislative issues while bleary-eyed and grumpy. However, with a few more sitting weeks and a long backlog of issues, more late nights are likely.

This story corresponds to an all-too-familiar issue in extended-hours operations: working during the low point in a daily physiological cycle of fluctuating alertness levels, when errors are substantially more likely. It’s no coincidence that the fatal accidents in Bhopal, Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island all occurred between 1:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. Moreover, research from Circadian Technologies shows that certain levels of sleep deprivation have the same effect on alertness as alcohol intoxication.

Extended-hours managers have an obligation to examine whether current shift scheduling practices are setting them up to incur excess costs, risks and liabilities, especially in safety-critical environments, reports Circadian.

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