The work shift / by kevin murray

You are generally considered to have worked a full week if you have put in five days of eight hour shifts in a given week for a total of 40 hours.  The fight for the 40-hour week as being set as the norm for working in the United States, started in the 19th Century and ultimately became industry standard in 1937 with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set the maximum workweek at 40 hours with the payment of overtime for any hours worked above this amount, which is still applicable today.


However, there are many industries in which the normal working shift is significantly greater than the standard 8-hour shift which, such as the nursing profession in which 12-hour shifts are common, and the fireman profession, in which 24-hour shifts are common.  For nurses, their shifts are often set into three consecutive days of 12-hour shifts, with four consecutive days off, or even six consecutive days of 12-hour shifts, with eight consecutive days off.   For firemen, their shifts are setup as one 24-hour shift, followed by two days off, or even a 48-hour shift, with 96-hours off. 


When you first hear about a fireman working a 24-hour shift or the incredible 48-hour shift, you’re not quite sure that you are correctly processing this information as this doesn’t seem physically or mentally possible. However, what you learn is that during their downtime the fireman are allowed to rest and sleep, which makes logical sense, but begs the question as to what goes on when there is one of those days in which there is a significant or major emergency(s) involved.  That is the true acid test, how are these firefighters able to respond when they are fatigued, tired, and irritable, from lack of proper rest; as professional studies have demonstrated over and over again that fatigued people perform their tasks at a significantly less efficient rate.   With fire fighters having the responsibility of responding to fires which takes a combination of strength, strategic thinking, and teamwork, along with their first responder tasks with providing emergency medical services, the public has a right to expect their fireman to be at their best for these services.


The nursing profession is a challenging environment in which the nurse is responsible for working with a variety of patients all of whom may have significant differences in age, disease, and services required; in which the nurse is accountable for seeing that each of their patients are monitored correctly, have their appropriate medications, and are treated correctly.  Nursing is the type of job that entails doing multiple tasks well, having sound organization skills, and accomplishing most of this on the go and on your feet. 


Shortcuts are a trap that many people fall into.  While simple mathematics may dictate that working longer shifts will allow you more free time, less commute time, and also frees up time for family, friends, or other work commitments, the actual real total for taking these shortcuts has unseen ramifications that often are not properly accounted for, such as your own health (both physical and mental), your effectiveness, and your obligation to perform at a professional level.  


Are these extended working shifts fair to the employee or to the people that they serve, or are they a bridge too far?  For instance, airline pilots have a minimum amount of uninterrupted rest required and are also limited to the number of consecutive hours that they can fly.  Does knowing that this is true for airline pilots make you feel more comfortable about flying or would you prefer flying with a pilot at the end of a long and arduous 24-hour shift?