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The impact of overtime and long work hours on occupational injuries and illnesses: new evidence from the United States
  1. A E Dembe1,
  2. J B Erickson2,
  3. R G Delbos2,
  4. S M Banks1
  1. 1University of Massachusetts Medical School, USA
  2. 2Environ Health Sciences Institute, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Associate Professor A Dembe
 Center for Health Policy & Research, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 222 Maple Avenue, Higgins Building, Shrewsbury, MA 01545, USA;


Aims: To analyse the impact of overtime and extended working hours on the risk of occupational injuries and illnesses among a nationally representative sample of working adults from the United States.

Methods: Responses from 10 793 Americans participating in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) were used to evaluate workers’ job histories, work schedules, and occurrence of occupational injury and illness between 1987 and 2000. A total of 110 236 job records were analysed, encompassing 89 729 person-years of accumulated working time. Aggregated incidence rates in each of five exposure categories were calculated for each NLSY survey period. Multivariate analytical techniques were used to estimate the relative risk of long working hours per day, extended hours per week, long commute times, and overtime schedules on reporting a work related injury or illness, after adjusting for age, gender, occupation, industry, and region.

Results: After adjusting for those factors, working in jobs with overtime schedules was associated with a 61% higher injury hazard rate compared to jobs without overtime. Working at least 12 hours per day was associated with a 37% increased hazard rate and working at least 60 hours per week was associated with a 23% increased hazard rate. A strong dose-response effect was observed, with the injury rate (per 100 accumulated worker-years in a particular schedule) increasing in correspondence to the number of hours per day (or per week) in the workers’ customary schedule.

Conclusions: Results suggest that job schedules with long working hours are not more risky merely because they are concentrated in inherently hazardous industries or occupations, or because people working long hours spend more total time “at risk” for a work injury. Strategies to prevent work injuries should consider changes in scheduling practices, job redesign, and health protection programmes for people working in jobs involving overtime and extended hours.

  • overtime
  • long working hours
  • occupational injuries and illnesses
  • fatigue
  • stress

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  • Competing interests: This study was based on secondary analysis of publicly available national survey data and did not involve any direct contact with human subjects. It received an exemption from the institutional review board at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The conduct of the study and preparation of this article has involved no competing interests for any of the authors.

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