Study: Give workers breaks and reduce the risk of injury

by on October 11, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Studies have shown that workers tend to get hurt later in a shift – the safest hours are when the shift starts.

A new study confirms that and gives safety pros two new pieces of ammo for reducing injuries:

  • Rest breaks reduce the likelihood of injury.
  • Longer rest breaks reduce the likelihood of injury even further.

The research: Scientists spoke with about 600 workers who had been hospitalized after ladder-related falls. They asked how long into the shift the injured occurred, and when was their previous rest break.

Results: Workers who received breaks from one minute to 15 minutes usually were injured about an hour later into the shift, compared to those who didn’t receive breaks (It was three hours from shift start for those who received no break; 3.8 hours for those who received some kind of break).

Conclusion: Fatigue matters, and directly relates to injuries. Here are some suggestions for applying this research:

1. Even 1 minute matters
The old saying “take five” has truth in science. But so does, “Take one.” Even a one-minute break, especially in arduous work, will rejuvenate workers and reduce their chances of injuries for a little while.

One minute, after all, is all prizefighters receive between rounds. Take out those one-minute breaks, and how long do you think fights would last?
Bottom line: Make sure supervisors know that they shouldn’t scuttle a break period just because they think it’s too short to do any good. “Go get a drink and cool off for a minute” really does produce results. Remember: The perfect is the enemy of the good. Much better to offer a little break than none at all.

Bonus: It boosts morale. Workers know that the boss cares, which is also linked in injury prevention.

2. Longer equals better
There was a direct link between length of break and reduction in time to injury. Longer breaks meant fewer injuries in the hours immediately following breaks.

When workers received breaks up to an hour (say, lunch time), they are no more at risk than at shift’s start.

3. Mix them up
When possible, workers should receive 15 minutes every two hours. If that’s not possible, mix up the breaks – “take five” after an hour, another 10 minutes after three hours.

Supervisors will need to keep an eye on worker’s fatigue levels – and a lot will depend on the nature of the work. But ideally, workers should receive regular breaks throughout a shift.

4. Don’t assume workers are getting breaks
Researchers reported that many injured workers had no breaks at all during their shift. Since breaks were no doubt required, some workers either weren’t given breaks or didn’t take them.

Some people get up a head of steam and the supervisor needs to stop them after two or three hours. In those cases, supervisors should be prepared to step in.

Source: Wirtz, A., et al., “The effects of rest breaks on time to injury …” Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, 2012.

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