On Safety

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Increased hours, decreased safety

July 23, 2015

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush recently suggested that Americans need to work longer hours. Is that a safe idea?

During an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader editorial board earlier this month, the former Florida governor said “people need to work longer hours” to improve U.S. productivity and earn more money for their family.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, an international economic organization, U.S. workers ranked 15th out of 34 countries in terms of the number of hours worked each year. Employees in the United States worked more hours each year than workers in Japan, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom, OECD found. The weighted average hours worked per employee in 2014 from 32 countries was 1,770; it was 1,789 in the United States. Additionally, a 2014 Gallup poll found that U.S. adults working full-time actually average 47 hours a week, with 25 percent of workers saying they put in at least 50 hours a week.

What’s the result of working so many hours each week? For one, it can lead to poor health and an increased risk of injury on the job.

In a 2004 NIOSH report that compiled findings of numerous studies investigating the issue of shift work and extended work hours, researchers found a link between overtime and everything from weight gain and alcoholism to increased smoking and increased risk of injuries.

Long hours may even lead to catastrophic results. The Chemical Safety Board identified long hours and worker fatigue as a likely contributor in the 2005 oil refinery explosion in Texas City, TX, that killed 15 workers and injured nearly 200 others.

Many workers in this country may disagree with Bush that they need to work longer hours. But even if they do agree that employees need to work more, they should understand that doing so comes with a cost.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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