Researchers from the University of Burgos have for the first time established the existence of the 'lunch effect' in Spain, according to which workplace accidents are more serious and more likely to be fatal between 1pm and 5pm. These hours close to lunchtime account for 18.2% of all accidents and 29.4% of fatalities.
"The gravity and mortality rate of accidents are higher in the hours around lunchtime, regardless of who, how, when, where or with what the accident happens," Miguel A. Camino López, lead author of the study, said. The researcher in the Engineering and Responsible Management Group at the University of Burgos focused on the construction sector for this study.
This phenomenon can be seen in both young and old workers, those just starting out on the job or those who have been doing it for years, in micro businesses and large companies, on scaffolding and with machines, in falls from a range of heights and in collapses. It also occurs throughout all seasons of the year and all the autonomous regions.
The research group, which studied the accidents suffered by construction workers in Spain from 1990 to 2002, found that the largest number of accidents took place between 9am and 12:59am, with this period accounting for 57.3% of the total and 38% of all fatal accidents. However, while only 18.2% of all accidents occurred in the hours around lunchtime, they accounted for 29.4% of deaths.
In other words, although fewer accidents happen around lunchtime than in the morning, more than twice as many accidents at this time period result in the workers' deaths (0.24% compared with 0.1%).
"Companies can use these figures to help them understand the times of day with especially high levels of accident gravity and mortality," stresses Camino. "Workers should be informed of these risks, and the Ministry of Employment should make greater efforts to promote preventive measures in the construction sector, such as continuous shifts."
The 'lunch effect' was observed for the first time by Pete Kines, a researcher at the National Institute of Occupational Health in Denmark, who found that the greatest number of falls from all heights suffered by construction workers in Sweden and Denmark happened before 1pm, but that the largest number of fatal falls took place in the afternoon.
Why are there so many accidents?
The authors also analysed other possible causes such as failure to take a lunchtime nap, and alcohol consumption, by questioning 724 workers in Burgos. Strangely, construction workers were the only ones who thought that most accidents happened in the early hours of the afternoon.
Workers were also asked about the reasons for the higher accident rate in the construction sector. They felt the main cause was work being done in a hurry, while other factors, such as workmen acting unsafely, lack of training and tiredness coming much further down the list.
Workers also attributed importance to alcohol and drug consumption, above all in the construction sector, which has a higher percentage of heavy drinkers. A higher level of alcohol consumption was also seen among workers who eat away from home from Monday to Friday.
- Miguel A. Camino Lópeza, Ignacio Fontanedab, Oscar J. González Alcántarab, Dale O. Ritzel. The special severity of occupational accidents in the afternoon: "The lunch effect". Accident Analysis and Prevention, 43 (2011) 1104-1116
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