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The need for speed takes its toll

Watch that work pace. Picking up the pace of production is a major concern for low-wage employees in a wide range of industries, and is becoming a key issue in bargaining contracts, sometimes ahead of wages and benefits.

Especially at risk are aging baby boomers who might not be able to keep up with a bulging workload. The need for speed may be already taking a toll on employees' health - experts say it may be the cause of many musculoskeletal injuries. NIOSH recently designated job speedup and other changes in work organization as research priorities.

Work pace has historically been an element at the bargaining table, and until not long ago most contracts contained language on workload and pace. In recent years, the workplace has changed dramatically: more companies operate 24/7, 12-hour shifts are becoming more prevalent, many workers are not under union contract, and commute times are increasing, according to Circadian Technologies.

A fatigued employee, already operating at low alertness levels, may have serious difficulties coping with an increase in work speed. The current economic downturn makes the problem worse, with many companies seeing increased worker productivity as the only way to keep up with the pressure to maintain profits.

For more information, contact Dr. Acacia Aguirre, aaguirre@circadian.com.

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