The Perils of Working Overtime

Working overtime is something many Americans do every day. While emergency responders, surgeons, and some other professionals are prepared for this type of schedule, in general, most people are ill-prepared to deal with the stress associated with extended hours.

Unfortunately, more and more people are working longer hours at their primary job or have taken a second job in order to make ends meet. These extended work hours – many times involving early morning or late night shifts – can lead to fatigue, stress, and loss of concentration. In jobs where it is imperative that a person is well-rested and alert, such as construction workers and machine operators, this can be deadly. Aside from just being tired and worn out, here are some common signs that you are overly fatigued:

  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Decreased memory
  • Low motivation
  • Susceptibility to illness
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Changes in eating habits

If you must work extended hours, it is imperative that you take precautions to stay as safe and alert as possible. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no official stance on working long hours, they do provide some guidelines for helping to make sure individuals working overtime remain as safe as possible.

  1. Take regular breaks through the day.
  2. Eat healthy foods high in protein to keep your energy up.
  3. When possible, perform the most difficult tasks early in a shift.
  4. Change positions when possible, for example, avoid sitting or standing for extended periods of time.

In addition to overtime and holding down more than one job, many companies and organizations have instituted what they call a compressed work week (CWW). Many employees like these arrangements because they allow for more time off. For example, an employee will work three 12-hour days instead of five days. While this is certainly tempting, there are risks associated with such a work schedule and it is important to understand these risks before agreeing to such a schedule. These risks include fatigue and susceptibility to repetitive motion strains.

Depending on the industry, CWW schedules can also lead to overexposure to things like noise and chemicals. Finally, workers that are off for extended periods of time and then return to work may take longer to get back up to speed.

While there are circumstances and professions that require long and/or odd work hours, if an individual is able to work a traditional 40-hour work week, in almost all cases, this is the safest option.

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