DeKalb Water Workers Clock Marathon Overtime – Safety Issues Quote by Margaret Spence

Exhausted behind the wheel?

Watershed managers say they’re running a 24/7 operation, and long hours go with the job.

But studies have linked long shifts and overtime with increased injuries, weight gain, alcohol abuse and a nose dive in productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Sleep-deprived workers also tend to make more mistakes. Going more than 17 hours without sleep can impair one’s judgment as bad as being intoxicated, research has shown.

That’s among the reasons that federal regulations limit work hours for airline pilots, locomotive engineers and nuclear power plant workers, among other occupations. Commercial truck drivers who cross state lines can’t be on the road after 11 straight hours of driving or 14 straight hours of working.

Watershed supervisors drive commercial-sized trucks and operate backhoes and bulldozers that turn earth around gas lines, but there are no limits on work hours for public utility workers.

So long as DeKalb County pays its hourly workers time and a half for anything above 40 hours in a week, even brutally long hours are legal. However, Margaret Spence, a Florida-based human resources consultant, said an argument could be made in a complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that extraordinary work hours create a hazardous work environment.

“I just think that it’s unconscionable to have people working that way,” said Spence, who heads Douglas Claims & Risk Consultants in West Palm Beach. “What happens if this person who’s responding to a water main break gets into an auto accident because he dozes off while he’s riding to respond to that call?”

The prospect of accidents, as well as swelling costs, prompted Atlanta Watershed Commissioner Jo Ann Marcina this year to rearrange weekend shifts to try to reduce overtime. She said she was alarmed to find that about 100 pipe crew workers’ overtime averaged 50 percent above their base pay.

“If we are working that set of people that much, then they will have fatigue,” Macrina said. “I’m concerned about injury, and I’m also concerned that they’re burning out.”

Lambert said DeKalb depends on supervisors to call for replacement workers, if someone is struggling with fatigue.

“We’re always concerned for their safety,” Lambert said. “But it’s not an individual out there. It’s a crew out there.”

But he also said that relief crews are hard to come by and a repair job can’t be abandoned midway when customers are waiting for water.

Read Full Article at the Atlanta Journal Constitution Website 

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Margaret Spence

Margaret Spence - CEO of C. Douglas & Associates, Inc., Keynote Speaker on Diversity, Women in Leadership, Mentorship and Workers' Compensation. Business strategist & consultant to Fortune 500 Corporations. Founder of "The Employee to CEO Project"

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