Daylight saving time & the increased risk of workplace accidents

Mar 15 2016

If you felt unusually tired at work on Monday, it was probably due to the beginning of daylight saving time. While this tradition is certainly beneficial for those who want to enjoy more sunlight in the afternoon and evening hours, the one-hour time shift comes at a surprisingly high cost.

As it turns out, “springing forward” by an hour is far more disruptive to us than we may realize. Studies have shown that in the days following the beginning of daylight saving time, workplace productivity declines and the rate of workplace injuries goes up.

Human beings are creatures of habit – especially when it comes to sleep and rest. A one-hour shift can temporarily cause reduced sleep quality and decreased mental performance until the body adjusts to the new time. That means, in the days following the start of DST, those of us with desk jobs are more likely to engage in “cyberloafing,” which is essentially wasting time on the internet rather than doing work.

A more serious consequence, however, is the reduction in workplace safety. When workers are suffering from decreased alertness and mental performance, they are more likely to make mistakes that they might otherwise avoid. A study published in 2009 examined data on more than a half-million mining injuries occurring over a 23-year span. The data showed that on the Monday after the start of DST, mining injuries increased by about 5.7 percent. And in addition to being more frequent, injuries on that day were also more severe.

Cyberloafing means lowered productivity at work. Workplace accidents mean higher costs related to workers’ compensation and lost work time. Although coming up with an exact quantity would be nearly impossible, one estimate reveals that daylight saving time could cost the American economy more than $434 million.

When DST first began during World War I, it made sense as an energy conservation measure. But is there a good argument to be made for continuing to observe DST in the modern age?