Murphy’s Law & The Working Time Directive
We’re all familiar with the idiom that says whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. This tendency to focus more on the negative results rather than the positive is commonly known as Murphy’s Law. Interestingly, there actually was a Murphy. He worked as an engineer in the 1950s for the US Air Force and was part of a project to determine how many Gs (the force of gravity) a human could withstand. The tests involved attaching a series of sensors to the poor chap who was volunteered to ride a sleigh they built for the purpose. The plan was to fire the sleigh down a half-mile track at 200mph to measure the associated force of gravity.
To spare the volunteer any undue hardship they were very keen to get the data they needed on the first go. However, after the first attempt they discovered that none of the five sensors had been properly connected to their colleague. None! And therefore they failed to collect the data. For each sensor, there were two ways of connecting them and each was installed the wrong way. It was at that time that Captain Edward A. Murphy was heard to say, in the direction of the engineer responsible for the mistake, “If there are two ways to do something, and one of those ways will result in disaster, he’ll do it that way.” And so Murphy’s Law was born.
On July 13th 2014 Ireland woke up to the news that 20 of its acute hospitals had failed to fully implement rosters in line with the European Working Time Directive (EWTD). The hospitals in question are now facing fines of over €2 million. The EWTD has been around since the early 1990s. However, it seems some organisations are not paying sufficient attention to its strict legal requirements. For example, limiting the working week to a maximum of 48 hours on average, including a minimum rest period of 11 hours between one working day and the next.
Organisations are being criticised for their attitude towards the EWTD but in their defence it can be difficult to properly monitor their working-time obligations. It’s only fair to assume that if those Irish hospitals knew they were breaching the rules they would have addressed the issue. Perhaps that is naive but why would they, or any reputable organisation, risk their reputation and finances by knowingly ignoring the law. The reality is that organisations are failing in this regard because their roster management systems are failing them.
The very best systems should immediately flag up current, and even more importantly, impending working-time breaches. Knowing in advance is always better. Managers and their staff need to trust their roster management system. They need to know that it’s always there to protect them. We all want to be part of organisations that are run in accordance with the law and that includes complying with working time regulations. There are better and easier ways to achieve that and organisations have a legal obligation to ensure that they do. If they don’t, well, whatever can go wrong will go wrong!
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