Worker fatigue “epidemic”?

by 07 Mar 2012

Worker fatigue “epidemic”?New research from a leading university has suggested that Australian workers, especially parents, are suffering from an “unrecognised epidemic” of fatigue and exhaustion.

The research paper from University of South Australia psychologists Natalie Skinner and Jill Dorian also urged governments to cap the working week, including overtime, at 38 hours, to help avoid accidents caused by sleep deprivation. Close to 1,000 workers were surveyed about their work and sleep habits, moods, and access to leave, of which one third reported they were either ''extremely tired'' or “completely exhausted”. Perhaps some had to be woken up to complete the survey?

Currently Australia's national employment standards set 38 hours as a maximum length for the working week, and exceptions are permissible for ''reasonable'' requests to work longer. The paper says this exception is applied too often and ultimately working in excess of 45 hours each week dramatically increases the negative outcomes for employers and employees alike. “These outcomes, in turn, are associated with reduced productivity and community and workplace safety. Our findings [also] suggest that working 45-plus hours significantly increases the risk of negative outcomes for fatigue and sleep deprivation. Therefore, it is recommended that an upper limit be set for 'reasonable' hours no longer than 38 weekly hours, even taking into account operational needs of the workplace/enterprise.”

A 2010 Australian Bureau of Statistics report found the average “usual weekly hours” of an Australian employee was 36, compared to 30.6 hours in the Netherlands and 49.3 in Turkey. The report also revealed:

  • For full-time non-managerial adult employees the average weekly total hours paid were 39.4 hours (40.3 hours for males and 38.0 hours for females).
  • Machinery operators and drivers had the highest average weekly total hours paid for (43.7 hours) while Professionals had the lowest average weekly total hours paid for (37.8 hours).
  • Industry: Average weekly total hours paid for were highest in the Mining industry (44.3 hours) and lowest in the Education and training industry (37.3 hours).
  • Sector: For full-time non-managerial adult employees, average weekly total hours paid for were higher in the private sector (39.8 hours) than in the public sector (38.0 hours).
  • In contrast, average hourly total cash earnings were higher in the public sector than the private sector ($36.40 vs $30.90 respectively).


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  • by Avi Kumar 7/03/2012 3:14:07 PM

    Whilst reports such as these are not News Flashes to the HR industry, a little more thought mus go twoards benchmarking workplaces wherein additional hours are not only required they are historically precedental. Example...a large Legal Firm or a Doctor's Practice and the Hospitality Industry. IN additition whilst a #8 hour week is very supportive of a work life balance, can the esteemed researchers actually get a better handle on EBA and which industries rely on EBA that allow additional hours whilst paying atleast 40% more than the Fair Work Modern Awards.

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