The Guardian October 27, 1999


Reasonable hours are safer hours

On Monday October 25, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) 
launched a National Campaign on Dangerous Hours under the theme of 
reasonable hours are safer hours. The focus of the campaign is on 
occupational health and safety.

The campaign follows on from earlier campaign on stress in the workplace, 
and a number of workplace surveys.

The most recent of these surveys were conducted nationally in the first 
half of this year by manufacturing, education, services, public sector, 
finance, nursing, hotel, and engineering unions.

A total of 6,770 employees working in more than 100 specific industries 
took part in the surveys.

Fifty-five percent of workers surveyed worked more than 40 hours per week, 
26 percent more than 45 hours and 12 percent work more than 50 hours per 
week on average.

The surveys confirm other reports that the amount of work and stress levels 
has increased while overall job satisfaction, job security and number of 
jobs has declined in many workplaces.

Apart from adding to the numbers of unemployed, the longer hours (often as 
unpaid overtime) are taking their toll on workers' health and safety, and 
on family and social life.

Half of those surveyed had suffered health problems because of work 
conditions and a quarter felt that working arrangements had led to 
accidents or near misses in the workplace.

Amongst those respondents who feel that their working arrangements have 
contributed to health problems, 62 percent work 40 or more hours per week.

Similarly, amongst those who feel that their working arrangements have 
contributed to accidents or near misses, 63 percent work more than 40 
hours.

Employers are using privatisation, funding cuts, contracting out and 
casualisation to increase working hours. This has been facilitated by the 
stripping back of awards, increased "flexibility" available to employers in 
enterprise agreements and individual contracts.

Workers are pressured into accepting dangerous hours through fear of job 
loss, employer intimidation and the need for more money to survive.

In conjunction with the campaign the ACTU released a Guide To Working 
Reasonable Hours. The guide identifies a number of dangerous tendencies 
which are on the rise:

* excessive hours, including extended shifts and/or extra, often 
unpaid hours worked;

* inadequate rest periods, e.g. returning to work with an inadequate 
break since the previous period worked;

* split and broken shifts, which can involve continuous periods of 
up to six hours work without any break at all, and often a return to work 
without an adequate rest period;

* five to six hour work periods, no rest or meal breaks, where it is 
deemed the worker is not entitled to any rest periods;

* night work, which poses a greater risk of fatigue and health 
problems than day work, particularly when combined with long hours;

*  unpredictable and irregular hours, which can reduce the 
opportunity for adequate rest, thus leading to fatigue and health problems;

* skipped rest and meal breaks at work, which are usually the result 
of work overload, unrealistic time pressures and/or excessive performance 
monitoring; and

* excessive overtime, whether paid or unpaid.

Quite often workers are subjected to a combination of the above.

"Dangerous hours are a serious health and safety hazard" the ACTU warns.

They can result in:

- fatigue and an increased risk of accidents both at work and or travelling 
to and from work;

- over exposure to other occupational health and safety hazards such as 
heavy lifting, uncomfortable temperatures or repetitive tasks;

- adverse health effects such as stress, burnout, heart disease, anxiety 
and depression, gastrointestinal disorders, overuse injuries and a 
worsening of existing medical problems.

The aim of the campaign is to promote practical solutions for government, 
unions, employers and the community to ensure that working hours are 
reasonable and safe.

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