Rostering Challenges

Rostering Challenges

The Outdoor Recreation Industry operates over a wide spread of hours and in very challenging conditions. Employees are routinely called upon to work extended periods “in the field”, and often in remote locations, well removed from their home-base. Coincidently, Outdoor Leadership entails the  delivery of training to novices, relating to complex/ physically and often demanding activities, in hazardous conditions.

The combination of the environment, nature, and the organisation of the work, pose significant challenges to the workforce and those who manage them. This article explores the ramifications.

Custom & Practice:
Whilst the Fair Work Act 2009, and the Modern Awards made in accordance with its dictates, anticipates ordinary hours being worked over an average (over four or six weeks) of thirty eight, with undisturbed periods of eight to ten hours between work on consecutive days; the Outdoor Recreation Sector works to a very different model.

Periods of work are organised around shifts easily exceeding the award-base “norm” of eight to ten hours, over a span of nine to eleven consecutive hours (inclusive of unpaid breaks). Often enterprise-specific arrangements facilitate work being scheduled:

  • over spans of twelve to sixteen consecutive hours, rostered in blocks of two or more periods per day;
  • regularly exceeding thirty eight over seven days;
  • on more than six consecutive days.

Sometimes distinctions are drawn between “active” and “passive” time; the former involving the provision of training or support to Clients (being paid time) and the latter involving rest periods,(that entail the employee being available to meet extenuating circumstances, with little or no delay), and or, traveling to and from remote locations (being unpaid).

Working long and irregular hours associated with physically and or mentally arduous activities can pose significant health and safety risks, as well as organisational risks. Employers have obligations to minimise these risks to workers, and clients, alike, stemming from a general duty to provide safe systems of work and a safe working environment.

From a health perspective; stress, fatigue, depression, headaches, high blood pressure and increased risks of developing stomach ulcers and heart disease, can all be contributed to by poorly designed and managed patterns of work.

From an organisational perspective, productivity and efficiency suffers, often manifested by:

  • Increased absenteeism and higher than average staff turnover;
  • Degraded staff morale;

Prolonged work periods often see employees at their least competent and watchful, therefore vulnerable to making errors of judgement if unexpectedly recalled to duty to address an emergency. Further, hand-over arrangements suffer, as essential information to ensuring a transition from one team to the next is prone to being overlooked, incomplete or miss-communicated, increasing the potential for mischance/accidents.

Team members who have worked continuously for 8-10 hours in a remote location, are not the best candidates to act as drivers for people and equipment back to home-base.

Whilst payment can be an inducement to perform “over and beyond”, dollars cannot reduce the loss of efficiency associated with fatigue.

Acknowledging that organisations in Outdoor Recreation are routinely dealing with a diverse group of Clients, with significantly different needs/requirements; the following framework is recommended in relation to the organisation of “scheduled” work:

  • Work should be rostered over not more than six consecutive days (and ideally not exceeding 48 hours of ‘active’ duty);
  • Minimise the number of occasions where either active or passive activities are required over seven consecutive days;
  • Shifts of twelve or more ‘ordinary hours of active duty’, should not be rostered over more than four consecutive days;
  • Keep work requiring both day and night active duty to a minimum – if a program has an “after dark” component, consideration should be given to having a specific team to cover these requirements; concurrently, a nominated team member(s) should be rostered on “standby”, to cover any night time contingencies;
  • Periods of active duty, (either scheduled or unscheduled – in the case of ‘call-outs’), should be separated by at least eight continuous hours off-duty, before the commencement of any further work. This is an imperative for team members undertaking high-risk work;
  • Ensure that team members have sufficient (paid or unpaid) breaks during work periods, particularly those working shifts in excess of eight hours, in inclement conditions, or undertaking high-risk work;
  • Always ensure that time is allocated to ensure that there is an effective hand-over between work teams; (co-incidentally, documented ‘hand-over policies’ should be put in place well beforehand);
  • Either prior to engagement, (in the case of casuals), and or on each occasion (in the case of weekly employees), that a program is delivered or assignment undertaken, ensure that a formal ‘fitness for work assessment’ is implemented in relation to all team members, from the Supervisor down. At the very least this should entail observing and communicating with the workers to ensure they are able to perform their allocated tasks, in the environment, within the timeframe required, and using the available resources.

A final point; stress and fatigue related issues impact equally on team members, regardless of their employment status, or history. On occasions, unfortunately, casual employees are treated differently to ‘permanent’ team members in relation to rostering. This is a counter-productive, and potentially dangerous.

Michael Taylor, Principal Consultant, HMT Consulting
January 2015


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