Offshore Shift Work & The Dangers of Fatigue
There's no denying the importance of maritime workers in the global economy. Ships and other vessels transport over 90% of the world's goods, providing jobs for maritime workers in the U.S. and abroad. Of these industries, offshore oil exploration and extraction is among the most important. Teams work around the clock in shifts to make sure the demands for American oil are met.
Shift work is popular in the offshore industry. It’s used by companies that wish to have operations running day and night to maximize how much of a product—such as crude oil—they can collect. Yet, studies reveal that shift work comes at the cost of something important: the health and safety of workers.
Is Offshore Shift Work Dangerous for Workers?
Typically, shift work involves night shifts that take place between 7 PM and 6 AM. Studies have found that irregular sleep patterns such as this can have dangerous effects on the health of workers. Interrupted sleeping patterns can result in difficulty falling asleep as well as the lack of an ability to sleep for extended amounts of time. As the internal clocks of workers try to adjust to new patterns of sleep, something known as shift work disorder (SWD) can develop. When a person has SWD, they might exhibit excessive sleepiness or insomnia. Depending on what study is looked at, about 10 percent to 38 percent of shift workers develop SWD.
Even if a worker doesn’t develop complete SWD, there’s a significant chance they haven’t completely adjusted to their schedule. One 2008 study found that only 3 percent of shift workers can completely adapt to working at night. In other words, most shift workers suffer from fatigue to an extent. While companies try to mitigate the effects of shift work by switching workers to permanent night schedules, any progress towards adjustment is typically undone when those workers have days off. Workers who are off from night shifts often try to go back to a normal schedule—something that encourages SWD.
Health Risks of Shift Work
Besides fatigue, shift work has been associated with various health risks. One of the most significant health risks associated with shift work is cardiovascular disease. A study focusing on the cardiovascular health of shift workers found that they experienced a 40 percent higher chance of having poor cardiovascular health.
Other studies have also associated shift work with health problems such as:
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Peptic ulcer disease
- Increased risk of breast cancer in women
- Metabolic disturbances
- Mental health issues
- Pregnancy complications
- Decreased health of family relationships
Worker Fatigue Is A Common Cause of Maritime Accidents
One of the most common causes of accidents is worker fatigue. Given the nature of the maritime industry, the vessels are typically in operation 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Because offshore vessels cannot easily and cheaply rotate new work crews while they are hundreds or thousands of miles out at sea, employers are prone to asking the onboard crew to work extended shifts, many times 16 hours a day and upwards of 20 days in a row. That type of work schedule takes its toll.
Shift work is associated with an increase in worker injuries and fatality rates. Notably, the only regulations placed on workers to prevent dangerous fatigue are hours of service regulations—something that only applies to the drivers of large trucks.
The Dangers Of Worker Fatigue
Having a constantly overworked crew is dangerous on many levels. Research has shown that tired or fatigued workers are more prone to physical or mental lapses that could lead to an accident. Being tired or fatigued makes workers less alert and aware of their surroundings and has been shown to negatively affect decision making and judgment. The inherent dangers of offshore vessels make the need for alert and rested workers even more important.
Unfortunately, because worker fatigue is so pervasive in the maritime industry, it often gets overlooked or goes unnoticed. It is taken as a basic fact of life. Managing worker fatigue is not only necessary; maritime employers are obligated to do it to keep the crew safe. Employees must maintain healthy working practices to make sure they receive enough rest.
Injured in A Maritime Accident?
Given the importance of the maritime industry, the need for safe working conditions for maritime and offshore workers should be a top priority. Yet, too often, accidents occur that seriously injure or kill maritime workers. And many times, these accidents could have been easily prevented had employers been adhering to effective safety practices. Workers should not have to worry about their safety when going to work. Safety is an inherent right. Employers must carefully monitor working conditions to make sure their employees are cared for. Failure to do so endangers the maritime workers.
If you have been injured in a maritime accident, you may be entitled to compensation. At Arnold & Itkin, our team of maritime attorneys offers free consultations to injured maritime and offshore workers across the country.
Call our offshore injury lawyers today if you think unreasonable and unsafe shift work practices caused the accident that started your suffering. We’re ready to help you with a free consultation when you dial (888) 346-5024.