Many Canadian employers operate 24 hours a day to maximize the productivity and output of their organizations. The typical schedule sees the day split into three shifts: midnights, afternoons, and days. Some workplaces follow a two-shift 12-hour split instead, such as hospitals. Most (but not all) workers rotate through the shifts biweekly or monthly.
Shift Work: The Impact on Health, Safety, and Wellness
While shift work makes sense from a business standpoint, it has negative impacts on the health, safety, and wellness of workers, such as:
Sleep Stress & Fatigue
A rotating shift-work schedule increases the chance of developing shift-work sleep disorder, which is characterized by both insomnia and excessive sleepiness. Shift work has a direct impact on the circadian rhythm which can be very disruptive to the natural sleep cycle.
Physical Health Issues
Shift workers are at increased risk for many health problems, such as:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Heart attack
- Stress-related illnesses
Mental Health and Substance Abuse
A National Library of Medicine study from 2013 purports that shift workers are more likely to experience depression or abuse drugs. They’re also at higher risk of starting and getting addicted to nicotine. Smoking and drug use are each accompanied by a host of other physical and mental health concerns.
This 2010 NCBI study found that workers are more likely to be involved in and injured in workplace accidents. With shift work comes fatigue, sleep disruption, and deprivation, which contribute to greater instances of human error on the job – sometimes at a great cost.
Work-Life Balance Impacts
Many shift workers struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance. They may struggle to spend enough time with loved ones or experience role overload. Role overload happens when workers do not have enough time in the day to fulfill all the roles they feel they must fill to maintain a healthy balance between work and life.
How Employers Can Lessen the Impact
If shift work is key to your organization’s success, there are strategies you can implement to help lessen the negative impact it has on worker health and safety, such as:
- Provide consistency in scheduling
- Increase safety measures on the night shift
- Practice work scheduling – consider scheduling more challenging tasks during the day to reduce the risk on nights
- Make frequent breaks mandatory on night shifts
- Provide an EAP and support for anyone experiencing substance abuse issues
- Provide training
- Educate workers on how to create and stick to a healthy sleep schedule
- Don’t make workers pay for coffee on nights – a little caffeine can help reduce accidents and keep workers alert – Check out the study!
- Offer health benefits and ensure all employees know about them
- Listen – when an employee comes to you with a concern, listen and take it seriously
- Create a wellness program and make it available to everybody
Not Sure Where to Start? BEST Safety Training Can Help
Download this FREE Shift Work Safety Calendar, courtesy of BEST Safety Training and Consulting.
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