Building-site camps and extended work hours: A two-week monitoring of self-reported physical exertion, fatigue, and daytime sleepiness

Roger Persson, Anne Helene Garde, Bente Schibye, Palle Ørbaek
Chronobiology International 2006, 23 (6): 1329-45
Large-scale construction work often requires people to work longer daily hours and more than the ordinary five days in a row. In order to minimize transportation times and optimize the use of personnel, workers are sometimes asked to live in temporary building-site camps in the proximity of the work site. However, little is known about the biological and psychological effects of this experience. The objective of the present study was to investigate whether exposure to long work hours and extended workweeks while living in building-site camps in between work shifts was associated with a build-up of increased complaints of poor sleep, daytime sleepiness, physical exertion, and fatigue across a two-week work cycle. Two groups of construction workers were examined. The camp group of 13 participants (mean age: 42+/-11 S.D. yrs) lived in building-site camps and worked extended hours (between 07:00 and 18:00 h) and extended workweeks (six days in a row, one day off, five days in a row, nine days off). The home group of 16 participants (mean age 40+/-9 yrs) worked ordinary hours between 07:00 and 15:00 h and returned home after each workday. Self-ratings of daytime sleepiness (Karolinska Sleepiness Scale), physical exertion (Borg CR-10), and mood were obtained six or seven times daily during two workweeks. Fatigue ratings were obtained once daily in the evening, and ratings of sleep disturbances were obtained once daily in the morning with the Karolinska Sleep Diary. Data were evaluated in a repeated measures design. The results showed that both groups reported a similar level of daytime sleepiness, physical exertion, and mood across workdays and time points within a workday (all three-way interactions had p>0.898). Although the home group reported earlier wake-up times, the pattern of sleep disturbance ratings across the workdays did not differ between the groups. Both groups reported few sleep disturbances and good mood. However, the camp group reported higher physical exertion already at the start of work and showed a more gentle increase in ratings during the work shift and a smaller decline between the end of work and bedtime. The camp group also reported higher fatigue scores than the home group. However, none of the groups showed signs of increasing ratings in the progress of the two workweeks. For both groups, the ratings of daytime sleepiness formed a U-shaped pattern, with the highest scores at awakening and at bedtime. Yet, the camp group reported higher daytime sleepiness than the home group at lunch break and at the second break in the afternoon. In conclusion, there were no signs of fatigue build-up or accumulation of daytime sleepiness, physical exertion, or sleep disturbances in either group. Despite the fact that the camp group showed some signs of having trouble in recuperating in between work shifts, as indicated by the higher physical exertion ratings at the start of work, higher fatigue scores, and higher daytime sleepiness, the results constitute no real foundation for altering the camp group's current work schedule and living arrangements.

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