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Concerns About Working Overtime May Be Misplaced

Although working very long hours is linked to an increased risk of certain types of health and safety problems for particular groups// of industrial employees, other factors—such as previous health problems—have a much stronger effect on overall health, safety, and productivity, suggests a study in the February Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

"Our results challenge the assumption that each hour of work above 40 hours steadily increases health and safety risks and reduces productivity. In fact, no adverse effects were found until the 60-hour per week mark. Even then, the effects were limited to an increased risk of workers compensation episodes for hourly female employees with a history of workers comp episodes and to an increased risk of new musculoskeletal diagnoses for older workers." comments Harris M. Allen, Jr., Ph.D., lead author of the new report. "Our results also raise the possibility that policies like the European Union's Working Time Directive—with across-the-board restrictions that severely obstruct the capacity to work longer hours—may themselves be too blunt and onerous in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace."

Using a database of information on a sample of nearly 2,800 workers representing a heavy manufacturer, Dr. Allen and colleagues analyzed the effects of work hours on a broad range of health, safety, and productivity outcomes. At the time of the study, the company had a policy of strongly encouraging but not mandating overtime, resulting in an employee average of over 43 work hours per week.

While employees in the above subgroups working 60 or more hours posted a higher rate of injuries and other health problems, those with other job and demographic characteristics working 60 or more hours per week did not show this added risk. Nor did employees working more “moderate” overtime (48-59 ho
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