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40-hour working week is a "healthy basis"

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(Vienna, 6 March 2017) More flexible working hours, 3 or 4-day week, 12-hour working day – the debate about the break-down of working hours is more relevant than ever before. A recently published study by Gerhard Blasche and Daniela Haluza of the Center for Public Health, Division of Environmental Hygiene and Environmental Medicine, on a person’s level of fatigue after a 12-hour working day has revealed that such long shifts result in considerable daytime fatigue that is difficult to recover from in the normal way during time off and also gives rise to health risks, increased risks of accidents and the likelihood of making mistakes.

The study involved looking at the strain on geriatric nurses working 12-hour shifts in old people's homes in Lower Austria and Upper Austria. According to the scientists, the results are as follows: "The increase in tiredness during a 12-hour day shift is 3 ½ times greater than on a day off and also the level of fatigue increases even further after two consecutive 12-hour shifts." Addendum: "In this case, the recovery time between shifts is not enough to immediately offset this fatigue."

Performance drops after the 10th hour
The study showed that people needed to take three days off to fully recover from two consecutive days of 12-hour shifts. In general, nearly everyone experienced a significant drop in performance after the 10th hour of work – including an increased risk of occupational or road traffic accidents.

As a rule, daily working hours should therefore not exceed 8 hours, according to one of the conclusions from the study. Says Blasche: "This shows that our current standard of an 8-hour day is a healthy basis." Anyone who works 50 hours per week or more over a period of years has an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and is more prone to mental illness, and that applies to women in particular. “That’s probably due to the additional stress of looking after children."

Similarly, longer working days or working in concentrated blocks of time are not a good idea. Because they are so tired, people then have to make a disproportionate effort to perform and this triggers the stress response. Also, because of their accumulated fatigue, they are unable to enjoy their free time properly, despite the advantages that working in time-blocks offers in terms of childcare. In general, people in our performance-oriented society have a tendency to push themselves, so that employers must make sure that their staff are given breaks and encouraged to take them.

Service: International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health
"Work-related self-assessed fatigue and recovery among nurses." Blasche, G., Bauböck, V. M., & Haluza, D. (2017). International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 90, 197-205.