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Survey reveals workers pushed to exhaustion

11 September 2019

A SURVEY of over 13,500 workers operating in bus driving, construction and the lorry driving sectors has revealed a shocking level of tiredness and exhaustion which is dramatically affecting their physical and mental health, causing relationship breakdowns and compromises safety at work and in communities.

All three sectors have workers operating far in excess of a standard 40 hour week. Over half (54 per cent) of lorry drivers work over 50 hours a week as do 28 per cent of construction workers. While 44 per cent of bus drivers work at least six days a week.

The excessive hours being worked are damaging the long-term health of workers across the three sectors. Roughly three quarters of workers (74-76 per cent) report problems with their physical health due to long hours. Just over half of respondents between (50-58 per cent) report mental health problems, associated with long hours.

The survey also found that the vast majority of members (73-78 per cent) stated that the long hours’ culture had damaged their relationships and family life.

A flavour of the personal testimonies reported by respondents about their health and relationships included: “one divorce and can’t remember my kids growing up”, “arthritis, constant back ache, torn knee ligament, don’t get sick pay, being treated for depression, split up with Mrs”, “took an overdose four days ago”.

Other members said, “I am currently on antidepressants and I’m tired and stressed out a lot, “too tired to think about sex and unable to help with my elderly mother’s care”, “have been dismissed on capability grounds due to arthritis in numerous joints after 27 years with the same company”.

Tiredness and fatigue also had a profound negative effect on workplace and community safety. A very disturbing 79 per cent of bus drivers reported that in the past year they had made errors while driving due to tiredness, while 10 per cent had actually fallen asleep while driving

For lorry drivers during the same time period 57 per cent had to stop driving due to excess tiredness, 31 per cent had made errors while driving and four per cent had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Construction workers also reported that the safety of themselves and workmates is being affected due to excessive hours. Over a quarter (28 per cent) said in the last year they had made errors which resulted in an accident or a near miss due to excessive tiredness, while almost half (49 per cent) had been forced to stop work in the last 12 months due to exhaustion.

One of the primary factors in addition to long hours which created fatigue and tiredness is the lack of recovery time. Legally workers should have 11 hours between finishing one shift and beginning the next (although this does not include travel time and professional drivers can legally have this reduced several times a week). 

However members report these legal minimums are not being met. Over a third of both bus drivers (38 per cent) and construction workers (34 per cent) reported that rest periods were just 10 hours.

The short time between shifts impacts on workers’ sleep. It is recommended that workers have between 7-9 hours sleep per night. Across the three sectors the vast majority of workers (85-87 per cent) report they are getting six hours or less of sleep a night.

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said, “Workers are having their health and relationships destroyed because of excessive hours.

“The safety of the general public and drivers is being put at risk because workers are too tired to do their jobs safely. This is putting workers at risk, family life and relationships at risk, it undermines professionalism, work-life balance, and threatens community safety.

“It is clear that companies are pushing existing laws and regulations to their limits and beyond.

“Employers who are risking the safety of their employees and the general public should be prosecuted, named and shamed.”

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “This is a further example of corporate greed. Employers are treating workers, not as human beings but as a commodity and are squeezing every last ounce out of them.”

“Exhausted workers are not even been given enough time off work to have a decent night’s sleep.

“This abuse of workers cannot continue. Workers are being forced out of their jobs far too soon due to illness and injury and then facing years of poverty until they finally reach pension age.”