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Working hours influence both our health and the general safety

24 April 2009 | Shift schemes, overtime, shared sleeping quarters, exposure time and rest and recovery are all factors which influence our working environment, the general safety and individual health. "The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway's objective is to get the parties to incorporate working hours in their HSE assessments as an important framework condition," says Eva Hølmebakk who is giving a speech on the topic at the HSE conference on 5 May.

"This is a complex subject with a great variety of interests, and work is constantly in progress to understand and handle the impact of working hours. The parties should improve the use of current know-how and data in their HSE assessments," Hølmebakk underlines.

The employees' own experiences
During Safe's HSE conference on 5 - 6 May in Sandnes regarding health and safety relating to shift work, work load, working hours and work environment exposure, Hølmebakk will present relevant results from the report "Risk levels in Norwegian Petroleum Activities" (RNNP).

RNNP's main objective is to reach a common understanding of the factors which impact the risk both for the individual’s health and the safety level in the company.

"We will highlight factors which influence the health and safety conditions. For the purpose of RNNP, the questionnaire survey (see link in the right hand column) which is conducted every second year among the employees offshore and at the land facilities, is of particular interest," says Hølmebakk.

The questionnaire survey was last carried out at the beginning of 2008 (see link in the right hand column).

"An observation from this survey is that many employees who respond that they often have to share sleeping quarters, also respond that they do not feel sufficiently rested when they go to work. We also know that the risk of making mistakes increases if you report for work tired," says Hølmebakk.

One industry - several realities
This questionnaire survey also confirms that we have to consider several "realities":

Types of employment (permanently employed or on contract, employed in an operating company or contracting company, etc.), field of work, work site (offshore or at a land facility) entail different challenges, interests and needs. This, in turn, influences the effect of working hours on HSE conditions.

"We see, among other things, that during the years we have conducted the survey, there has been a clear positive trend offshore towards sleeping alone in the cabin. Unfortunately, this has not led to a bridging of the big gap between operators' employees and the contractors' employees in terms of who is still sharing sleeping quarters.

"Employees at land facilities report, however, that more operator employees than contractor employees perceive their working hours as taxing. This is probably due to the fact the operator employees mainly work continuous shifts, for example 14 days daytime - 14 days evenings - 14 days nights, while contractor employees at a land facility to a greater extent work daytime,” says Hølmebakk.

Quenching the thirst for knowledge
The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway has for several years strived to obtain more knowledge about HSE consequences in connection with working hours schemes and shift work in the petroleum activities, and has, among other things, carried out a project in cooperation with employers and employees, the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority, as well as national and international research communities to sum up the state of knowledge and possible gaps.

Research projects have also been initiated under the Research Council of Norway's Petromaks programme for HSE to map consequences for health and expulsion as a result of long-term working hour-related factors. The projects are conducted jointly by the National Institute of Occupational Health and the University of Bergen.

The results of long-term studies of HSE consequences related to working hour schemes will be important both to the industry and authorities in order to conduct the necessary assessments of the schemes used," Hølmebakk underlines.