24-Hour Shifts: A Planet of Fools
Since I already posted today on an issue involving both logic and common sense, here’s another one, in the context of a human tragedy in Romania where it has been revealed that the emergency services operators that answer to the unique emergency number 112, when redirecting to the police, they can only redirect to a single person working in 24-hr shifts for an entire county–called județ and having an average surface of 5800 km² and an average population of 445,000 inhabitants!
A country that’s 40 times smaller and 14 times less populated than the US only has at any given time 47 police officers working as emergency dispatchers! Unbelievable.
And their shifts last 24 hours. I won’t address the ridiculously low number of dispatchers, nor the fact that they don’t receive any specific training–they’re just the average cop, really. I’ll focus on the length of the working shift, as it’s one of my pet peeves.
I could never understand the logic of having 24-hour shifts specifically where people should be the sharpest of all: firefighters, ER doctors, police officers responding to emergencies, various kind of security guards, and so on. Nobody can be productive, effective, attentive and responsive for 24 hours in a row! So you’ll have a sleepy doctor trying to save your life when you arrive in a coma to the ER, a sleepy firefighter trying to deal with a major fire, a sleepy security guard trying not to be caught off-guard as they’re protecting a military base, a nuclear power plant or anything else!
It makes sense, yeah. Totally. Not.
I tried to summarize things in a thread of six tweets on Twitter:
The bottom line: 24-hour shifts (followed by 48-hour off-duty) have no advantages over 8-hour shifts (followed by 16-hour off-duty)! No economy for the management!
This is true both for a 24/5 coverage (only weekdays) using a 40-hour work week, or a 24/7 coverage using a 56-hour work week. Three persons or teams are needed in both shift philosophies. To limit the working week to 40 or 42 hours while still covering 24/7, more complex schedules are required–and allowing for holidays and sick days is another matter altogether!
So why are 24-hour shifts used in hospitals (up to 30-hour in practice!), in fire departments (especially in the US), and so on?
There is no logical explanation, not even for the accounting department or the CFO. This person comes with ridiculous arguments:
Fire fighters in many cities in the United States and some in Canada have had 24-hour shifts for many years. The rationale here is that in this workplace, where it is possible to sleep between fire calls, that the risk of fatigue is reduced and this makes 24 hours at work possible.
The real advantage for shiftworkers on 24-hour schedules is that they have a great deal of time away from work and more time to devote to their family and personal interests. It is not uncommon for these shiftworkers to have other jobs, businesses or educational pursuits.
Ridiculous is mild a word for such rationale. Whoever designed 24-hour shifts couldn’t possible have thought of employee’s “great deal of time away from work”!
- First thing first: it’s still 33% of one’s life spent at work!
- Secondly: shouldn’t effectiveness be much more important, being it strictly “CFO thought” i.e. “cheaper is better” or “true effectiveness” as in “this surgeon better not kill patients because of fatigue” or “this guard better not be caught off-guard because of being sleepy”?
If someone has a true rationale for 24-hour shifts, I’d appreciate if they let me know about it. In the meantime, I’ll stand to what seems to be the facts: 21st century management is even more moronic than in the Middle Ages. A truck driver cannot drive more than 9 hours a day (in some countries), but an emergency doctor can work 12 to 24 hours in a row because, heck, what is expected from an ER (A&E in BrEn)?