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Rest and Fatigue


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It's all been a bit quiet here recently, so I thought I'd insert the feline amongst the avians and bring up an old subject.


I've been doing some research recently into the effects of fatigue and lack of rest on peoples alertness and ability to react to potentially dangerous situations. (The things I do with my spare time, honestly..) Anyway, it seems that what we have is a job designed to make us make fatigue-related mistakes.


I'll list what I mean: (These all relate to my job. They may or may not be universal...that's what I'm interested in in really.)


While remaining within the exact provisions of the working time directive, shifts can often be extremely long. (16 hours isn't unknown. 13-14 hours is frequent)


Particularly on show days, those shifts can consist of long periods of inactivity, followed by brief bursts of hard work.


The majority of the work takes place in a darkened, warm environment.


(This is the biggie) There's no real pattern to the work. And therefore, no real pattern to your lifestyle. You get no regular sleeping hours, no regular sleeping amount (I sleep anything from 4 to 12 hours a night depending on what's available) no regular mealtimes, no regular days off. Sometimes you're needed to start at 6am, other days they need you to stay until 4am, or even later. (Earlier? :stagecrew: )


To try and address some of these issues, we now have a bedroom at work that we can kip in during "fallow" periods. It helps with the longer shifts sometimes, but only if you can get used to napping (some people just can't handle it).


So what I'm interested in from you lot is your opinions on what I'm trying to say, and whether you have the same sorts of problems. What do you do about them? Am I just wingeing? Do you even care?

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Doesn't sound at all surprising. I've done days where we've closed the truck doors after the getout at 4am then been back in at 9am for the next fit-up.


But, the working time regulations (the UK implementation of the EU working time directive) are supposed to keep all this under control in the long term. As a recap, they provide:


- a limit of an average of 48 hours a week which a worker can be required to work (though you can choose to work more if they want to, usually averaged over 17 weeks).

- a right to 11 hours rest a day.

- a right to a day off each week.

- a right to an in-work rest break if the working day is longer than six hours.

- a right to four weeks paid leave per year.


From what you say, it sounds like your shifts are fitting into these rules or to whatever opt-outs you've agreed, but the problem is getting the rest when you're working such irregular hours. For example, people would find it very hard to work one hour on, one hour off, 24 hrs/day (except perhaps Maggie Thatcher...). Most people doing lots of shiftwork have set, regular times of work and rest.


The result is a well known problem - many scientific studies published in respected journals have described significant increases in injuries due to workers working irregular shifts, because of disruption in the circadian rhythm and the impairment of the normal sleep pattern. Effects include chronic fatigue, reduced concentration span and gastro-intestinal upsets, cardiovascular problems and domestic disturbances! The real bugger in theatre is that your body clock is set by light, and is therefore also screwed up by the erratic darkness and light we encounter in the job. Also, it's quite a skill to be able to sleep 'on demand' any time and anywhere.


I'd say that if you think safety is being compromised, then you have a legal duty to do something about it. Speak to the management and your BECTU rep. about negotiating changes in shifts and hours, or if necessary taking it further.

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I have to agree with Bryson, but I am not sure that working with regular hours is any different. I can only assume it depends on the individual.

I actually find working regular hours much harder. I get frustrated with the motonoty of knowing what hours I will be doing next day or week and that gets me down, so I loose the will to work. This, in turn affects my abillity to work properly.

I think after a lifetime of not having any routine in my life I struggle to fit into a pattern. I think it may have a lot to do with conditioning. You can train yourself to rest enough even if you can't sleep in the breaks.

A bigger cause of fatigue, in my opnion, isn't sleep but diet. I don't know how many days I have worked 20 hours shifts surviving on caffine and nicotine...a familiar story? Now that doesn't help brain power!

Having said that, just over a year ago I gave up coffee, smoking and alcohol over night...and it was the worst week of my life!

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Guest lightnix
...I gave up coffee, smoking and alcohol over night...and it was the worst week of my life!
Wow, that was brave ! Well done !!


I've still got my original notes on my old laptop for an article I was preparing on sleep deprivation last year, I'll have to dig them out and finish it sometime.


I don't have them to hand at the moment, but from what I recall the basics were...


After 10 hours without sleep, productivity levels begin to fall. Errors and oversights increase, which then have to be corrected.

After 18 hours without sleep, your attention span, comprehension and concentration are more adversely affected than if you have consumed the legal limit of alcohol for driving.

After 40 hours without sleep, most people begin to exhibit symptoms of psychotic behaviour: sudden outbursts of irrational and emotional behaviour, such as hysteria, anxiety, depression and even violence.


Over a period of 3-4 days where sleep is limited to 4-6 hours in 24, the body's ability to process carbohydrates is seriously affected, to the point where you start showing symptoms of Type II diabetes, something often associated with old age - although the body recovers fairly quickly once the sleep deficit has been made up. Researchers are concerned that repeated exposure to such patterns of sleep deprivation may bring the advanced onset of health problems normally associated with old age, such as diabetes, memory loss, hypertension and obesity. People who are regularly deprived of sleep have a greater tendency towards obesity.


Sleep deprived people are less able to deal with sudden changes in situations, to deal with new information or to form effective strategies to cope with these things. They are more likely to be involved in road accidents and have weaker immune systems.


There's more, but here's a couple of links to be going on with...

The British Sleep Society


The National Sleep Foundation


You can also try doing Google searches on "lack of sleep" and "effects of sleep deprivation" for more info, some of it technical / medical. It makes for some scary reading.


Although sleep mechanisms are still not fully understood, it is clear that lack of proper, regular sleep can lead to some nasty long term health problems. The WTD is all well and good, but might as well not be there if you go burning the candle at both ends after work. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy, but it also prevents you from reaching the levels of Deep Sleep, which truly heal the body. The same is true for drugs, particularly cannabis and cocaine.


I must say that since I took my "big step sideways" last year, I have been sleeping a lot better and generally feel mentally healthier, to the point where I actually did a gig yesterday (the first in six months) and am contemplating "returning to the fold", albeit on a scaled down level.

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We've got a huge problem here at uni with some members of crew insisting working stupidly long hours. Often when an event ends, we could walk away and come back the next day to do the get out, but people will work all night despite having not slept more than 6 hours in the past 48..... people do make mistakes much more easily.


I think food has a big factor as well. When I'm doing stage work, I eat half of what I normally would, and it isn't good food. I also don't drink as much fluid, and it takes it's toll, especially with physical exertion.


A couple of days ago I worked a 14 hour day, on a microwave lasagne and chocolate bars. It was pretty much non stop, and after riding my bike home, I went straight to sleep. I woke up feeling very ill and dizzy, and it wasn't until 4 bowls of frosties later that I felt ok. I think I had just used up all of the available energy in my body.


Luckily I find I can sleep pretty much anywhere and anytime, as long as I can find something to cover me up, and there aren't people talking. Loud music, light and crowd noise doesn't seem to matter, and I find powerful bass puts me into an especially deep sleep...

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Our university theatre has pretty strict rules on how many hours you must be out of the building during each 24hrs - flout the rules and don't expect to be welcome back. We always make sure that the bar provides plenty of water during fit-ups, and enourage people to plan timetables with sensible meal breaks.


One of the more popular additions to another theatre's crew room has been one of those inverted-bottle water coolers (as seen in offices) which is a really good thing for keeping hydrated.

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- a limit of an average of 48 hours a week which a worker can be required to work (though you can choose to work more if they want to, usually averaged over 17 weeks).

Just cutting back a bit in the thread; Rob can you clarify the 17 week average figure for me. Is this law, guidance, best practice, or the figure set at your place of work?


Also, could any one guide me in the direction of reliable (and succinct) information on the WTD?


Interesting topic, thanks for kicking it off Bryson






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Guest lightnix

Check out the DTI page on the WTD has pretty well all the information there is on the subject.


One point to note is that the WTD does not apply to self-employed freelancers, who are supposed to manage their working hours through the use of risk assessments.

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I looked at the WTD briefly last year; I was actually quite disappointed - it's been watered down a lot. :stagecrew:


I'm afraid I can't remember exact details, but I downloaded some rota software/template that a theatre had done which complied with the WTD, and the examples were shocking.


In the example, a technician was easily working 48 - 70 hour weeks, but because it's averaged out over 17 weeks, he ended up averaging 40 hour weeks - largely because he took 2 weeks of annual leave in that period!


Now, I may have read it wrong, but that doesn't seem very fair to me. Perhaps I'm being naive. Luckily in our venue, we try and keep the hours down when we can, and people will nearly always get 2 days off in a week (WTD - entitled to 1 day off every 7) - usually next to each other.


So the moral is - read the WTD carefully before waving it at your employers - you could be worse off!!!! :P



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In the example, a technician was easily working 48 - 70 hour weeks, but because it's averaged out over 17 weeks, he ended up averaging 40 hour weeks - largely because he took 2 weeks of annual leave in that period!


If that was proper paid Annual Leave ( as per his entitlement) then that's not on. But if it was just a random two weeks off paid (but not holiday, as such) then yes, they can do that, sadly.



From the DTI site:

The regulations give all workers a right to 90 hours of rest in a week. This is the total of your entitlement to daily and weekly rest periods.


But there are 168 hours in a week. That leaves ample room for employers to rota a 78 hour week without too much trouble (As long as they compensate you for that later in the next 17 weeks)




A worker is entitled to one whole day off a week.


Days off can be averaged over a two-week period, meaning workers can take two days off a fortnight.


So, they can give you a day off next week instead, pushing the final possible limit to 91 hours in a single week. (Allowing 11 hours rest a day, over 7 days.)


Are you sure you're going to sign that "hours as required" contract? :stagecrew:



(About to embark on a 6-day week...)

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