A recent study of car assembly plant workers in the United Kingdom indicated that taking regular rest breaks could be an important part in the overall reduction of industrial accidents.
In the study, entitled “Rest Breaks and Accident Risk,” researchers from the University of Wales in Swansea found that the accident rate in the last half hour of work was nearly double the accident rate during the first half hour of work for employees working continuously for two or more hours. Ultimately, the researchers recommended short rest breaks every hour to help reduce the risk of accidents. Whether accident rates will actually be reduced with this new break schedule remains to be seen.
In addition to the potential to improve safety, rest breaks perform an important ergonomics function as well. Hinging upon human capabilities and limitations, rest breaks are a vital part of improving the health, morale and productivity of a workforce. Anyone in an office environment who has ever stared at the same computer screen for too long, or who has sat in the same chair, working on the same project without taking an occasional break, can attest to the resulting bleary eyes, sleepy demeanor and reduced productivity. The same thing happens in industrial settings; unfortunately, in an industrial setting with heavy machines and moving parts, the consequences of being zoned-out can be much greater.
There is another ergonomic bonus to this and similar research. It also shows that by aligning goals and initiatives between, for example, the safety and the ergonomics team, both can benefit. In this case, rest breaks may be a solution for a task with poor ergonomics. If the ergonomics team is unable to gain support for this solution, it may benefit the team to get the safety team on board as well.
Source: Safety + Health, April 2003