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Shorter, more frequent breaks reduce on-the-job accidents

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

Issue: How to structure break schedules to maximize productivity and safety.

Benefit: Allowing more frequent, but shorter, breaks are smarter than giving longer infrequent ones, new research shows.

Action: Earn kudos by pitching a new break plan to your CEO as a cost and productivity issue. Also, check your state break-time law.

The longer people work without a break, the more likely they are to suffer on-the-job accidents, new studies show.

Still, union contracts typically call for only two 15-minute breaks every eight hours, and many nonunion workplaces follow a similar pattern.

Advice: Shorter, more-frequent 10-minute breaks every two hours or so are more effective in improving performance and reducing accidents.

OSHA recommends brief breaks every hour for jobs that require intensive repetitive physical work and concentration. Even with such breaks, working 12-hour shifts increases fatigue and injuries, according to an OSHA review of 52 studies.

If you have outdoor employees, consider this: Agricultural workers recover from heat better with shorter, more frequent breaks, according to a Berkeley University study. Its recommendation: a 10-minute break every hour under mild conditions, and a five-minute break every half hour in high heat.

Some states mandate breaks

While federal law doesn't require you to offer rest breaks to adult employees, seven states, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Washington and Oregon, have established such laws.

Each state law is similar in that it mandates at least a 10-minute break for every four hours of work, preferably in the middle of each work period. Each law also exempts various industries from the mandate. For a description of each state law, go to www.dol .gov/esa/programs/whd/state/rest.htm.

Meal breaks: Federal law also doesn't mandate meal breaks, but 19 states do: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia. For a description of those laws, go to www.dol.gov/esa/programs/whd /state/meal.htm.

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