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The Workday That Wouldn't Die

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Duplicate or distribute this activity. Students may work independently or cooperatively.

Health Hazards
Many of the jobs requiring long hours nowadays are in the computer industry. Besides the obvious side effect of sleep deprivation from overworking, what are some other health problems associated with the boom in computer based jobs?

Do some research to find out the kinds of health problems that commonly result from working with computers. What are the symptoms? What are the apparent causes? You may want to look particularly at problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, exposure to radiation, and eyestrain.

Find out how employees and employers are dealing with these conditions. You may want to ask some working adults or people in the health professions you know to give their opinions. You might ask: Are there ways to prevent these conditions from developing? How can the negative effects be lessened?

Discuss this question with your classmates: Do you think there will be long-term health consequences for large numbers of workers because of the widespread use of computers? Why or why not?

Make a graphic display that illustrates both the health problems associated with computers, and possible solutions or ways to prevent these problems. Display your chart in the classroom.

Limiting Mandatory Overtime

Most workers can choose whether to work overtime, but some are required by their contracts to work as much overtime as their employer requires. For example, in order to get a job with a utility company, a worker may have to agree to work very long shifts if a storm causes widespread power outages. In certain cases, working overtime can cause health problems. In rare cases, it may even cause death, as in the case of Brent Churchill, a lineman in Maine who died on the job after working more than 24 hours straight:

In his last two and a half days of life, Brent Churchill slept a total of five hours. The rest of the time he was working. Churchill, a lineman on call one stormy weekend for Central Maine Power, worked two back-to-back shifts on Friday, went to bed at 10:30 p.m., was called back at 1 a.m. Saturday, caught a quick nap around dawn and went back to his job clambering up and down poles for almost 24 hours straight. Taking a break for breakfast on Sunday morning, he got yet another call. At about noon, he climbed a 30-foot pole, hooked on his safety straps and reached for a 7,200-volt cable without first putting on his insulating gloves. There was a flash, and then Churchill hung motionless by his straps.

Currently some lawmakers are considering legislation that would cap the amount of mandatory overtime allowed in their states.
Gather information to help you argue for or against limiting mandatory overtime. Consider these questions:

Why might a worker want mandatory overtime to be limited? What health and safety considerations might he or she cite to support that position?

What might the executive of an organization say which sometimes has sudden needs for lots more skilled help than normal?

• What precautions could employees and their employers take to make sure no one falls asleep on the job?

What if an organization does work that is important to the well-being of the public; for example, they operate hospitals or supply gas and electricity? Should they be exempted from legislation limiting mandatory overtime?

After you complete your research, take a position on forced overtime. Write one of your state representatives to let him or her know how you feel, why you feel this way, and what you think should be done.