Is Daylight Saving Time a Health and Safety Hazard?

A Brief History of Daylight Saving Time


The concept of daylight saving is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, and while he is the one who famously wrote that “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” the idea actually belongs to George Hudson of New Zealand. In 1895, he published a paper, proposing a time-saving shift to create more light hours after work so that he may pursue his hobby of bug collecting. Some credit Englishman William Willet with being the first to propose daylight saving; however, his proposal, while independently conceived, came two years following Hudson’s. Interestingly, Willet’s desire to add more hours of light to the day was also borne of a desire to have more time to practice his own hobby, golf.

The first country to adopt daylight saving was Germany in 1916. Britain and Canada followed, and then in 1918, the USA, and Russia joined in. The adoption of daylight saving has not been without dispute. Proponents point to energy savings and additional hours for leisure in the evening. Opponents argue that energy saving benefits are not conclusive and that daylight savings increases health risks and disrupts morning activities. They also suggest that the twice-yearly changing of the clocks is very disruptive to sleep patterns, which may result in more accidents including motor-vehicle, personal, and workplace accidents that can cause injury or even death. Generally, opponents feel daylight saving is bad for workplace productivity, bad for one’s health, and the cause of increased rates of pedestrian, motor-vehicle, and workplace accidents. By those arguments, it could be suggested that daylight saving time is a health and safety hazard.

A Temporary Drop in Productivity


The science speaks for itself; when employees put their clocks ahead one hour (as we will be on March 12, 2017), their productivity is reduced the following Monday. It’s because lost sleep results in a 20% increase in cyber-surfing per hour of sleep lost.1 While this doesn’t necessarily point to daylight savings being a hazard, it does indicate that daylight saving negatively affects operations, at least temporarily while workers adjust to new sleep schedules. And this decrease in productivity as a result of disrupted sleeping schedules occurs twice yearly. Lack of attention to tasks is wasteful in an office setting; in trades, it can be deadly. Fatigue is a primary psycho-social hazard in relation to machine operations.

Increased Risk of Motor Vehicle Accidents – and of getting Hit by a Car


The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety reports that when we put our clocks forward (in the spring), traffic accidents increase by a whopping 23% the Monday following.2 The CBC conducted a study supporting this statistic. How
do these statistics translate to workplace hazards? Imagine, with a 23% increase in traffic accidents the number of workers affected during daily commutes. In addition to commuters, workers who drive as part of their jobs are also at increased risk. This extends to more than those who drive motor vehicles – lift truck and crane operators, truck drivers, and even pilots are all at increased risk.

So, while increased motor vehicle accidents seem to be a result of putting the clock ahead in the Spring, then we must be safe in the fall when we put the clocks back, right? Wrong. When clocks go back in the fall, pedestrians are more than three times as likely to be struck and killed in the hours after 6pm.3 Why? Because drivers are fatigued and their focus is diminished, putting pedestrians at increased risk. It stands to reason that any change to sleep patterns and schedules could put shift workers at risk of harming themselves or coworkers in the workplace during operations of vehicles and/or lifting devices.

Daylight Saving has adverse Health Effects


Losing an hour of sleep or otherwise changing regular sleep routines and natural body rhythms increase the risk of severe health afflictions such as heart attack and stroke. A 2012 study conducted by the University of Alabama showed a 10% increase in the prevalence of heart attacks in the days following a time change.4 That’s a colossal increase in risk.

As for stroke, one study indicated an 8% risk increase. While the correlation between health and safety hazards and increased heart attack and stroke risk is not obvious, consider the effect that it would have on your business if one of your employees suffered a heart attack or stroke during his or her work day.

Sleep is a direct contributor to mental health. Lack of sleep can result in increased irritability and distress, while healthy sleep can improve well-being. Anxiety and depression are often linked to unhealthy sleep habits or inability to get enough sleep. Disruptions to sleeping patterns put workers at risk for mental health issues. Employers concerned about the effect of daylight saving on productivity and employee health have started encouraging on-site nap rooms in order to encourage healthy sleep and mental wellness.

Is Daylight Saving Time a Workplace Hazard?


The short answer, based on the evidence is yes. However, it seems that it is more of a hazard in the spring when we put clocks ahead. There seems to be less, though not zero, risk of workplace accidents in the fall when we gain an hour.

There have been movements to disband daylight saving time throughout the years; however, it seems that for now, Canadians will be falling back and springing forward for years to come.  The best strategy for preventing the fallout of time changes is to start preparing early, by adjusting bedtimes and wake times incrementally leading up to the time change. Employers may wish to make rest/nap areas available to help employees adjust, and those who drive for a living should ensure that they are properly rested before hitting the road.


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