News & Views

Health hazards of shift work

BY Ewen McAulay
Health & Safety
BG Orange

Millions of workers engage in shift work that requires them to show up at irregular hours or to work during the night.

Occupational Health and Safety shows that this number seems to be growing as shift work jobs are projected to increase during the next five to ten years, meaning that those who are now working full-time jobs may have to engage in shift work to remain employed.

Who Employs Shift Workers?
Shift workers are employed in a variety of industries, the most common of which include manufacturing and customer service. Workers are then paid in different ways, depending on many factors, such as their particular shift. For example, third shift workers are often paid more money than those who work first or second shifts. In addition, some companies compensate shift workers differently by giving them paid time off.

Health Concerns of Shift Workers
It is important to note that some shift workers often suffer from various health concerns because of abnormal hours. In most cases, shift workers suffer from insomnia and have short sleep periods, compared to those who have normal sleep hours at night. Research also has shown that nighttime shift workers suffer from higher stress levels. Some think that this occurs because they often miss out on important events that happen in family life, such as birthday celebrations, graduations, and various social events with family and friends. Shift workers also have a higher risk for heart disease and strokes.

Most importantly, studies have shown that shift workers have a higher tendency to be depressed. Shift work can have a more negative impact on the sleep/wake cycle, can affect the efficiency of workers, and can impact how an employee gets along with his or her family. It can cause problems within the marriage and with the care of children and can even affect a person's eating habits.

Long-Term Health Effects
Long-term effects of shift work can lead to a peptic ulcer, chronic fatigue, colitis, fatigue and hypertension. Some may not know it, but there are specific negative effects on women who work night shifts, including effects on their hormonal and reproductive systems.

How Shift Workers can Stay Healthy
Shift workers, regardless of their work hours, can stay healthy by exercising on a regular basis and eating healthy foods. A balanced diet such as salads, soups, and whole grains will keep a person physically as well as mentally healthy. Sleep is also an incredibly important factor. Since many shift workers sleep during the day, they need to keep the sunlight out of their homes by covering their windows with light-blocking window treatments and/or by wearing a sleep mask. Something else which helps during evening work is to drink coffee, tea or other sources of caffeine, so long as they do so in moderation.

Working on a shift is certainly not for everyone. However, for those who can tolerate the hours, exercise regularly and eat nutritious food, there is scope to do well with this kind of work. Getting enough sleep is also important and doing what is necessary to stay alert on the job will help to keep you safe and healthy if you are a shift worker.

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