The new Working Hours Act cuts the number of shift intervals that are too short by 50%

Short shift work intervals which cause stress were reduced to less than one-half in the social welfare and health care sector following the new Working Hours Act. Coinciding with the amendment to the Working Hours Act, the COVID-19 pandemic, on the other hand, did not cause major changes in working time in the social welfare and health care sector. Sickness absence rates have increased, especially in shift work. Comprehensive data on changes in working time and sickness absence in the social welfare and health care sector during 2008–2022 is now available in the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health's Work-Life Knowledge service.
kuvituskuva: kolme sote-alan työntekijää.
Mikko Härmä.
Mikko Härmä
Annina Ropponen
Annina Ropponen
Jarno Turunen
Jarno Turunen

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health media release 19 December 2023

The new Working Hours Act that entered into force at the beginning of 2020 requires compliance with the provision on daily periods of rest in shift work as well: employees must be given an uninterrupted rest period of at least 11 hours during the 24 hours following the beginning of a work shift, with the exception of work carried out during stand-by. 

Based on the working time in the social welfare and health care sector data compiled by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, short shift intervals of less than 11 hours decreased to less than half as a result of the amendments to the Working Hours Act of 2020. 

“Too short shift intervals do not provide the employee with sufficient time for recovery. They increase the risk of both sickness absences and occupational accidents, so the rapid decline in the number of short shift intervals in 2020 is significant in terms of work ability and well-being at work,” says Mikko Härmä, Research Professor at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. 

“Short shift intervals still occur in the social welfare and health care sector, and local agreements, among other factors, are often found behind them. However, the level is substantially lower than before, which supports recovery at work. 

Shift work increases sickness absences

Shift work includes many stressful working time characteristics, which may increase the risk of sickness absences. The data shows that sickness absences were more common in shift work than in daytime work. 
In shift work, both the number of sickness absences and short periods of sickness absences have increased by a few percentage points over the last 15 years. The growth in sickness absences accelerated in 2022 in particular. 

“The increasing number of sickness absences is a concern. It should definitely be investigated which factors in social welfare and health care sector organisations are linked with this trend,” says Annina Ropponen, Research Professor at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

The impacts of COVID-19 on work-related stress remained minor

The Emergency Powers Act related to the COVID-19 pandemic enabled deviating from regulations regarding overtime and rest times in 2020 and 2021. However, no dramatic changes can be seen in working time characteristics in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 did not seem to affect the average durations of work shifts or recovery times. The number of sickness absences reached its peak immediately after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early March 2020. However, their number decreased quickly as the COVID-19 quarantine and sickness absence regulations developed,” says Jarno Turunen, Senior Specialist at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

“It is likely that the stress related to working times has been successfully managed by rotating employees between work tasks, recruiting additional workforce and limiting holidays and days off on a case-by-case basis. However, the averages may hide stress peaks concerning individual employees, such as for those whose main task was to guide or treat COVID-19 patients,” Jarno Turunen adds.

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Further information

  • Mikko Härmä, Research Professor, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, mikko.harma [at] ttl.fi, tel. +358 (0)40 544 2750
  • Annina Ropponen, Research Professor, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, annina.ropponen [at] ttl.fi, tel. +358 (0)43 825 1392
  • Jarno Turunen, Senior Specialist, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, jarno.turunen [at] ttl.fi, tel. +358 (0)43 825 2569
     

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