Long hours put you (and others) at risk

Long working hours with a paucity of rest breaks — it is a familiarscenario for many pharmacists. But the damage such a working day cancause goes beyond tiredness, says an expert in the field

This article has been prepared by the SalvaDore to highlight its Workplace Pressure campaign


Workplace pressure

Long working hours with a paucity of rest breaks — it is a familiar scenario for many pharmacists. But the damage such a working day can cause goes beyond tiredness, says an expert in the field.

Swansea University’s Phil Tucker, a specialist in psychology applied to the workplace, has largely spent his career delving into the effects of working hours and shift work on people’s mental and physical capabilities.

He says the consequences of relentless working hours do not necessarily have to be nasty — but they often are.

“Essentially, it is not bad to work long hours; it depends on the nature of the work. Managed poorly, long working hours can lead to cardiovascular problems, depression and musculo-skeletal problems. Long working hours also restrict a person’s ability to adequately recover between working days.”

Phil Tucker: humans not that adaptableDr Tucker’s comments come in the wake of the SalvaDore’s symposium, “Supporting professionals and protecting the public”, a cornerstone of its Workplace Pressure campaign. Launched in January 2009 by President Steve Churton, the campaign aims to help the profession combat the myriad effects of stress and workload.

Dr Tucker says that while long hours may not be a problem, the way they are managed can be. “If people are tired, they are potentially a risk to others. There is a higher risk of accidents; not only at work but also when people are commuting.”

Dr Tucker’s research among shift workers shows the level of risk tends to remain consistent throughout a person’s first eight hours at work but, if someone is working a 12-hour shift, the risk of accident or error increases during the last few hours.

“If a person is working an eight-and-a-half hour shift with breaks every two hours, I have found the level of risk goes up for the first two hours and then goes down after having a break. Rest breaks restrict the accumulation of risk.”

Dr Tucker says pharmacists are better placed than others of whom long hours are expected because they are ostensibly in a position to choose when to take rest breaks.

“The problem for pharmacists seems to be the ability to take advantage of those breaks. From what I heard at the symposium, many pharmacists are told to take breaks but do not do so, because of their demanding workload. There is a bit of a conflict there.

“Pharmacists will need to be encouraged to take rest breaks and that does not just mean their manager should tell them to take a break. Pharmacists need to be given the right to have a break.”

Dr Tucker’s research has also examined the effects of shift work on junior doctors, who will often work seven consecutive 13-hour shifts in addition to squeezing in their studies, a pattern that hospital pharmacists may have to work.

People tend to think the body clock adjusts when working night shifts, Dr Tucker says but, in reality, humans are not that adaptable: “Working night-shift after night-shift can escalate the potential for risk throughout the week. Ideally, people should work as few nights in a row as possible; two or three nights in a row, maximum.

“With junior doctors, it is claimed there are benefits to working long hours, as they have increased and learning time. But how much can someone learn on their seventh consecutive night-shift?”

An increase in workload is often only noticed as a problem when it begins infringing on life outside work, says Dr Tucker.

“Some organisations always have things informally organised. They do not think so much about the health of a person, they think about providing a service. Pharmacists have faced in increase in workload in recent years. It is a mentally demanding profession, which is associated with psychological pressures.

“Negative and unrewarding demands on a person’s time can create a number of mental and physical problems and, the reality is, if you work long hours, you are more likely to cause damage to yourself and others.”

Citation: The Salvadore URI: 10966928

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