On a recent weekend morning, I passed a crew working on water system pipes in an enclosed space below the road surface. When the flagger signalled me forward, she was clearly in a work situation that was at least as hazardous as her unseen coworkers in the confined space below. Another crew was replacing an electrical transformer in the next block. Near the mall, there was a roofing crew installing standing-seam roofing on a steep slope. As I drove home I notices the neighbour’s new garage door being installed by another crew of young workers… Weekend workers seemed to be everywhere.
In the course of my weekend, I saw shopkeepers, clerks, maintenance workers, delivery drivers, landscapers, arborists, installers and many other workers. I saw farmworkers pruning and maintaining drainage in the nearby fields and a crew of greenhouse workers coming off shift. The cement plants visible in the distance were both in operation and I heard the ferry whistle sound with another full load typical of weekends. I passed the hospital and thought of the doctors, nurses, therapists, technicians, cleaners, food service staff working weekends. The emergency medical services technicians manning the ambulances at the emergency and the police cars in the parking lot reminded me of their 24/7 responsibilities and service.
Weekend work: Not exceptional
Weekend work generally used to be the exception. The tradition of Sunday as a “day or rest” predates Roman Emperor Constantine’s 321 decree but that edict solidified the tradition in western society. Henry Ford’s introduction of the five-day work week in 1926 marked a major turning point in establishing the Monday to Friday workweek for industrial workers, although other employers had adopted Saturday and Sunday non-work cycles, often to accommodate religious observances of workers. The Fair Standards Act (1938) in the US helped standardize the 40 hour workweek and two-day weekend in the early 1940s.
Of course, a few manufacturing processes always required continuous operation and security occupations like firefighting, defense and police work have always operated seven days a week. At the turn of the twentieth century, legislation designating Sunday as a day of rest was fairly common, although the enforcement varied widely. Societal attitudes, technological change and the evolution of the law contributed to the greater prevalence of work on weekends. In Canada, Lord’s Day Act of 1906 was ruled as unconstitutional in 1985 and similar statutes in many jurisdictions have been abandoned as public pressure for access to goods and services on weekends increased.
Work-related injuries occurred on weekends but perhaps the small numbers were seen as a rounding error and not significant enough for programmed inspection or access to workers’ compensation claims services. A 20 year study occupational injuries by hour of day and day of week from 1968/69 to 1987/88 (using Queensland and British Columbia data) noted “The data for Saturdays and Sundays were not included since they aggregated to less than 5% of the total…” (see Wigglesworth, Eric; Occupational injuries by hour of day and day of week: a 20-year study, AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH 2006 vol. 30 no. 6)
The reality of work in the 21st century is that many workers are actively working weekends and statutory holidays. Sometimes the work is a regular part of the schedule but often weekend work is unique to an event or function. Examples of weekend work and workers include:
- Rotating shift workers with weekend shifts part of the rotation
- Regular work-weeks that include weekends
- Regular weekend-only workers
- Occasional and on-call workers (including casual, seasonal and event workers)
- Maintenance, installation and repair workers (often deployed on weekends to minimize disruption or down-time)
- Essential service workers in hospitals, law enforcement, first response fire/emergency services
- Infrastructure workers (with 24/7 responsibilities)
- Multi-job holders with weekend positions or “gigs”
- Security and custodial workers
- Hospitality and entertainment workers
- “Event” staff
Significant Risk Exposure on Weekends
Weekend workers have similar or even higher exposure to hazards than workers doing equivalent work on regular workdays (at least during daytime hours). For example, many regular Monday to Friday workers have job demands that take them to the office or plant on weekends; these workers face health and safety risks associated with fatigue, work pressure, often working alone or in isolation. They may also face risks associated with a changed work environment. The typical resources available during their regular workweek (such as first aid attendants) may be unavailable on weekends. In many organizations, staff working weekends to meet deadlines, conduct repairs, or implement new systems are given no orientation or instruction regarding health and safety for weekend work.
A recent international survey found nearly a third of US workers report working at least some weekends (Daniel S. Hamermesh & Elena Stancanelli, 2015. "Long Workweeks and Strange Hours," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 68(5), pages 1007-1018, October). Statistics Canada data from a 2005 survey of employee shows 25.3 percent of men and more than 30.3% of women had work arrangements that included work on Saturdays or Sunday (Statistics Canada, 2005 Workplace and Employee Survey, Table 1.4).
Australian data provide an interesting insight into the pattern of exposure on weekends (see: Government of Australia, , “6342.0 Working Time Arrangements, Australia”, Australian Bureau of Statistics, November 2012) :
For single-job holders,
- 29% worked both weekdays and weekends
- 4% usually worked seven days a week, and a further 7% usually worked six days a week;
For multiple-job holders (one main job and one or more additional jobs),
- 14% usually worked on Saturdays and 8% usually worked on Sundays;
- 19% usually worked seven days a week, and a further 19% usually worked six days a week;
- 37% usually worked on Saturdays and 26% usually worked on Sundays;
- 57% worked on both weekdays and weekends
Work Fatalities on Weekends equal the Average for Weekday fatalities
US data on workplace fatalities for a recent 20-year period confirms weekend work can be deadly. For fatalities 1992 through 2011, (excluding Sept 11, 2001 fatalities and missing data reports), there were 95,716 fatalities reported on weekdays (Monday to Friday), an average count of fatalities on weekdays was 19,143. Saturday and Sunday combined accounted for 19,283 occupational fatalities, equivalent to the average for regular workdays. [Chart Data adapted from BLS, Fatal occupational injuries by day of week and month, 1992–2011, TED: The Economics Daily, DECEMBER 01, 2014 https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2014/ted_20141201.htm ].
Time-loss injuries on Saturdays, Sundays and Statutory Holidays Disproportionally Impact Women
Data supplied by WorkSafeBC for 2017 injuries shows the combined number of accepted time-loss claims that occurred on weekends and statutory holidays were roughly equivalent to claims accepted for injuries occurring on any Monday-to-Friday weekday. Women, who account for about 37% of accepted claims overall in that province, were disproportionately represented in the weekend stats, accounting for:
- 48% of accepted time-loss injuries that occur on Saturday
- 49% of accepted time-loss injuries that occur on Stat Days
- 55% of injuries that occur on Sunday
Loss prevention initiatives are diverse and an important part of protecting workers. Access to on-line tools and publications is available 7 days a week but few agencies have regular plans or programs to provide in-person or even phone or chat access to safety professionals for non-emergent, non-imminent risk situations on weekends. Planned or programmed inspections are an essential component of comprehensive prevention strategies. Unannounced planned and random inspections are components of effective loss prevention strategies. If the risk of detection of unsafe work is non-existent on weekends, the deterrent effect approaches zero.
I contacted a sample of workers’ compensation authorities with and occupational safety-health inspectorates to determine if the services available to workers who work weekends. Most replies included a commitment to be “responsive” to imminent threats or serious injury incidents on weekends but none reported broad-based prevention inspections or claims access to serve workers on weekends. A few jurisdictions noted specific projects in specific industries where inspections on weekends would be carried out. The following response (from a US state agency) was typical:
We do weekend work, but it’s often the result of a fatal notification. Our toll-free number for reporting fatalities, hospitalizations, etc., is covered 24/7.
During construction season, we try to have our compliance safety officers pair up and work an occasional Saturday or Sunday, but it’s on an irregular basis.
So basically, the answer is no, our agency is not able to provide the weekend resources you describe.
Most workers’ compensation agencies referred me to online and “self-serve” resources but few had options for workers to speak directly with someone about a claim outside the regular Monday to Friday workweek. WorkSafeBC’s TeleClaim service (where workers can call to report injuries rather than having to fill out and submit forms, receive information, ask questions and get help to obtain other services) for example, states on WorkSafeBC.com:
Claims Call Centre/Teleclaim
Contact us with any questions about the claims process. Phone toll-free (Canada):1.888.967.5377 (1.888.WORKERS)
Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Limited data on weekend risks, injuries and claims
Data on work injuries by day of week are not regularly published by most workers’ compensation and occupational safety and health authorities. Aside from special analysis such as those cited here, there are few sources of current information on the weekend workforce, risks and injuries. Despite every reported workplace injury and workers’ compensation claim having a mandatory “date of injury” field, few agencies routinely report statistics on injuries or accepted claims by day of week.
The lack of routine reporting may mask the magnitude of the risk and contribute to the lack of resources and services assigned or available to support the health and safety of weekend workers.
Proportionate service and access for weekend workers
Weekend work is now a typical aspect of the labour force. There is evidence that women are disproportionately represented in weekend work. Work on weekends exposes workers to risks without the same level of loss prevention and inspection services or workers’ compensation access and support afforded Monday-to-Friday workplace risks and injuries.
What level of service and support should weekend workers receive from workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety (OH&S) agencies? There is no one right formula but proportionality provides a reasonable guide. Reporting the proportion of the workforce working weekends and the proportion of injuries occurring outside the Monday-Friday traditional workweek in every jurisdiction should be a routine and transparent process. Workers compensation and OH&S authorities should be able to justify the level of services they provide to weekend workers based on these data. If one sixth of reported injuries and fatalities occur on weekends, then deploying one sixth of the loss prevention resources, inspection services and workers’ compensation resources ought to be reasonable targets.