From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Study: Non-standard Shifts Bad News for Injured Workers Returning to Work

A significant percentage of the more than 4 million people who are injured on the job each year quit or are fired, according to recent research findings from Ohio State University (OSU). A determining factor is whether they are returned to work that routinely requires non-standard hours.

The nonstandard schedules were defined as almost any shift outside the regular eight-hour day shift or one of five types of extended work-hour schedules identified for the analysis. These included extended hours per day (at least 12), extended hours per week (at least 60), overtime, extended commute time (two or more hours per day) and a summary category of any type of extended-hour schedule.

The researchers found that injured workers returning to shifts longer than 12 hours per day or 60 hours per week are at the highest risk of losing their jobs when compared to those returning to jobs with conventional eight-hour day shifts and a 40-hour work week. 

The study led by Allard Dembe, associate professor and chair of health services management and policy at Ohio State, was reported by OSU in January and published recently in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation.

The researchers analyzed data from surveys conducted between 1988 and 2000 from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a long-running analysis of American demographic characteristics sponsored by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and administered by the Center for Human Resource Research at OSU. The pool of 5,313 reported work-related injuries and illnesses among the 110,236 job and health records available for analysis also showed that extended hours appeared to have a more substantial impact on returning to work than did nonstandard shifts, such as night, evening, rotating, irregular or split shifts. However, the analysis did show that when considered as one group, injured workers returning to a job with any type of nonstandard shift were 53 percent more likely to be fired than employees with regular schedules.

The researchers noted that other factors influenced the ability to return to work. Employees with long commutes had by far the greatest danger of being fired (a 377 percent greater likelihood) or changing occupations (127 percent higher likelihood), following an occupational injury or illness compared to injured workers without such commutes.

Dembe’s previous work and other studies have demonstrated that employees working nonstandard shifts are already at higher risk for suffering an occupational injury or illness – the most common injuries are musculoskeletal conditions and cuts, bruises and fractures – making rehabilitative efforts associated with their return to work even more important.

The researchers note that current rehabilitation efforts tend to emphasize the ability of returning workers to perform tasks associated with their jobs, but not when or how long they will work each day. 

The findings point to a need for an ergonomic “package” in which rehabilitation specialists tailor return-to-work plans to individual employees’ schedules, according to Professor Dembe. Such adjustments might include alerting management to the possibility that recovering employees making long commutes could have special problems returning to a full-time schedule. Rehabilitation specialists also could design a phased return to a long-hour work schedule to avoid re-injury or the inability to meet employment demands.

Source: Ohio State University