In the United States, the average work shift lasts eight hours and the average workweek is 40 hours within a seven-day period. Working for long hours without breaks can cause a worker to become fatigued and increase his risk of making mistakes on the job. These mistakes can lead to fatal accidents.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) does not limit the number of overtime hours an employee can work per day or per week. OSHA regulations strictly adhere to the labor laws outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which limits non-overtime hours to 40 per week for employees who come under its overtime provisions.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
OSHA does not impose any overtime limits for US workers, but it does recognize the risks that come with working while fatigued.
Department of Labor Fatigue Policies
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) enforces laws concerning workplace safety. Under the Department of Labor umbrella, OSHA and the Wage and Hour Division work together to ensure employee protection standards are met. OSHA is generally more focused on workplace hazards, and FLSA provides the guidelines for wages and hours.
Although the United States Department of Labor enforces worker protection laws, it does not enforce specific overtime limits for workers in most industries. However, there is overlap between the DOL and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which operates under the Department of Transportation (DOT). The FMCSA maintains and enforces legal limits on how many hours long-haul truck drivers can drive between rests and how many hours drivers can drive in a day and in a workweek. This is for their safety as well as the safety of all others on the road, because there is a strong documented link between driver fatigue and traffic fatalities.
Understanding OSHA Regulations
OSHA compensation regulations actually defer to the FLSA, which has no set limit to the number of hours an employee can work. OSHA’s “maximum hours provision”—in which it refers to FLSA Section 7a—only applies to the maximum hours someone can work for non-overtime pay within a week. Because FLSA does not explicitly state that more than eight hours in a day would constitute overtime, OSHA does not limit the number of hours per day an employee can work, nor does OSHA have a regulation for consecutive days worked.
OSHA imposes safety regulations that must be followed by all employers in the United States as well as more specialized regulations for specific industries. Employers who do not comply with these regulations can face fines.
Other Hours Worked
According to the Wage and Hour Division, any employee who remains on work premises while “on-call” must be compensated. Employees must be compensated for work even if they have requested to stay and finish a task. Employees required to be on duty for 24 hours or less must be compensated even if permitted to sleep. Employees required to be on duty more than 24 hours can negotiate sleeping periods. Rest periods of 20 minutes or less must be compensated. Some states have “minimum rest periods” and other overtime laws not outlined in OSHA regulations or the FLSA.
OSHA Fatigue Policy
While OSHA and FLSA do not outline maximum work hours per week, many employers understand the safety risk—and productivity loss—associated with long workweeks. A report on a yearly study on the "EHS Today" website outlines these risks. In 2004, the study found that the health care costs of “high-overtime” employees were five times the cost of their “low-overtime” counterparts. The study consistently shows that increased overtime results in stress and fatigue. It also finds that more overtime leads to more—and more severe and costly—workplace accidents.
Fatigue increases a worker's likelihood of making a mistake because it reduces the worker's following capacities:
- Reaction time
- Attention to detail
Employees can be required to work more than 40 hours in a workweek. However, employers who require this type of commitment must think carefully about how these long shifts will impact employee productivity and proclivity for mistakes that can lead to serious accidents. Although it can be more expensive to have more employees working shorter shifts, employers can save money in insurance costs and lost productivity by cutting down fatigue and keeping the workplace accident-free.
- construction worker image by sonya etchison from Fotolia.com