The shifts necessary for adequate police coverage often work against the body’s natural sleep cycle, leaving officers fatigued. In turn, this can adversely affect officers’ ability to effectively handle the challenging situations encountered daily in the line of duty, impacting officer safety, health, and public interactions. Researchers found that a large contributor to fatigue is non-supervisory officers working on average 15 to 40 hours of overtime a month, some even averaging over 80 hours of overtime a month. Severe levels of fatigue have been shown to cause impairment that is equivalent to a BAC of 0.05% and even 0.10%.
Work schedules that contribute to this degree of fatigue open agencies and their officers up to injuries, illness, strained relationships with the public and even civil litigation. In turn, staffing levels are affected, leading to more overtime, and a continuing cycle of fatigue-related issues.
A number of occupational groups have already had work hours regulated for safety reasons directly related to the effects of fatigue. However, policing is not one of these occupations. This overview of the effects of fatigue offers a framework for shift scheduling which maximizes officer safety and wellness without deleterious effects on service to the community.
Primary Research Question(S)
How do work load and shift policies affect officer wellness, safety, performance, and interaction with the community?
Authors reviewed a number of current fatigue related studies on police officers. Studies involved collection of FIT tests, administrative data, interviews, and focus groups. Researchers examined sleep quality, fatigue-related impairment, and workplace policies and procedures.
Fatigue negatively impacts officers’ ability to perform duties, cope with everyday stresses of the job, and maintain relationships with both family and the community. Using the FIT Workplace Safety Screener, multiple studies have found that when officers are awake for 17 to 19 hours, impairment can be measured at a level equivalent to a 0.05% BAC. If 24 hours of wakefulness occurs, impairment can be measured at a level equivalent to a 0.10% BAC.
Additionally, in one study, self-administered surveys showed that less than 20% of officers get over eight hours of sleep and over half of the officers get less than 6.5 hours of sleep. Officers cited off-duty court appearances as the leading cause of overtime, along with covering shifts for absent co-workers, late arrests and reporting writing, and working special events.
It is imperative to understand that both managers and employees play an integral part in managing fatigue. Vila et al provide a number of action items for both managers and employees to help reduce workplace fatigue. Those pertaining to scheduling and staffing policies are included below:
- Involve employees in scheduling and work-hour decisions whenever possible.
- Schedule appropriately to meet organizational obligations while minimizing shiftwork disruption.
- Minimize shift changes and maximize work-hour regularity.
- Never use weekly shift rotation, and always rotate shifts forward.
- Ensure adequate staffing.
- Develop an overtime policy that minimizes mandatory overtime and discourages excessive work hours.
- Develop policies that promote a physically and emotionally healthy lifestyle among employees.
Vila, B., Morrison, G. B., & Kenney, D. J. (2002). Improving shift schedule and work-hour policies and practices to increase police officer performance, health, and safety. Police quarterly, 5(1), 4-24.