In the last century, there has been a drive to shorten not only the total hours worked per week but also the total hours worked within a 24 hour period. As a result, we gradually saw the shortening of the work day to 8 or 7.5 hours and many work weeks are customarily 40 hours or less. Shiftworkers, however, have found that their shifts and weekly hours worked may have, in fact, gotten longer. For example, many mine sites in northern Canada require workers on site to work 7 – 12 hour shifts in a row.

This is a total of 84 hours a week, but it is allowed by something called ‘averaging’ which accounts for the fact that this workweek is followed by 7 days off. Nurses typically work 4 – 12 hour shifts in a row which means they can work 48 hours without a day off, but they, too, would typically have multiple days off in a row to compensate. Even those who are working 8 hour shifts are often required to work six of the same shift in a row. That takes them to 48 hours as well, but with these schedules they rarely get more than 2 days off in a row. Some of these hours may be compensated with an EDO (earned day off) which occasionally would give them an additional few hours or a day off.

There has been a long-standing history of doctors in hospitals working more than 30 hours at a time and efforts are now being made to reduce these hours. But other workplaces are experimenting with 16 and 24 hour shifts. Firefighters in some major cities have had 24 hour shifts for some time and others are wanting to implement the same. Both hospitals and fire halls are unique workplaces in that they require ‘on-call’ work or offer an opportunity to nap in between work times, but on busy shifts there may be no opportunity for rest and these workers would be required to make a full-out effort for the entire length of the shift.

Do you think these long shifts and hours of work are justified? Are errors or safety a concern? Besides emergencies, in what circumstances should long hours of work be allowed?