Impact of Rotating Shiftwork on Employee Health

Posted On: March 9, 2017
The Impact of Rotating Shifts on Employee Health   Back in 2015, I was working with a shop that decided to implement a rotating shift. Like many people who work a rotating shift, the choice wasn’t up for discussion, at least not for anyone who wanted to stay employed. However, there are strategies to lessen the impact on worker health. Whether a rotating shift is your current or future situation, being prepared to handle it can increase the likelihood of success. Rotating Shifts Circadian rhythms are changes in the body that follow a 24-hour cycle, responding to the light and darkness in our environment. Our circadian rhythm is responsible for influencing our sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, and many other body functions. Ever have trouble sleeping after looking at the phone or computer at night? There is evidence that the blue light emanating from these devices can influence the release of hormones responsible for inducing sleep, since blue light from the sun in the morning hours helps us to wake up. In response to this, many phone updates as of late introduced a night mode, where blue light isn’t released. Unfortunately for many workers on rotating shifts, the solution isn’t as simple as switching modes on a phone. Both night work and rotating shift work have negative physical effects along with social stresses. If you are part of manufacturing, various medical occupations, or emergency response, your work schedule is highly influenced by external factors. Shifts often change based on variables that require longer hours. New projects create deadlines that require adding shifts or moving schedules around. Typically, shiftwork involves working outside of the normal daylight working hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Many involved in shiftwork rotate from a day shift to night shift at different intervals throughout the month. Emergency responders often work this type of schedule.
  • Some might work solely overnight, such as grocery stockers or night watchmen.
  • The manufacturing industry has production processes that must run 24 hours to operate profitably.
  • Many chemical production processes are longer than a typical shift, requiring a day shift, evening shift, and overnight shift.
Whatever the industry, shiftwork carries increased risk to the employee.   Physical and Social Effects Changes in sleep occur immediately after starting shiftwork, with night workers usually getting the least amount of sleep. Sleep loss over time increases fatigue and affects performance on and off the job. The ability to concentrate is reduced, increasing the risk of accidents when performing tasks requiring workers’ undivided attention. In the long run, the stress placed on employees from shiftwork can aggravate current health conditions like heart disease and digestive disorders. If a worker has poor health habits, then the stress of an alternating schedule is harder to fight. Looking at the social effects, those working shiftwork may go back to a normal schedule on their days off.  Many errands and chores can only be done during daylight hours. If the worker has a family, spending time with them during the day when off work becomes a priority. Events and social activities scheduled during the day can lead to shift workers going for longer periods without a normal sleep schedule. Continuing this doesn’t allow the body to completely adapt to sleep and body rhythms, increasing fatigue. Strategies for Dealing with Shiftwork Shiftwork can be managed successfully by implementing a strategy and following some best practices: For employers:
  1. Avoid permanent night shifts for workers.
  2. Keep consecutive night shifts to a minimum.
  3. Avoid quick shift changes.
  4. Keep the schedule regular and predictable.
  5. Consider different lengths for shifts.
For shift workers:
  1. During shiftwork, schedule at least seven hours in bed, even if you don’t sleep the whole time. Block out noise and light. Maintain a regular sleep routine.
  2. A short afternoon or evening nap can help fight sleepiness during the night. If napping during a break at work, twenty to thirty minutes should be the minimum. A fifteen-minute nap could increase sleepiness.
  3. Avoid heavy foods and alcohol before sleeping.
  4. Engage in regular exercise and a healthy diet to reduce the stress on the body and help increase energy. The body will recover easier from the stresses of shiftwork.
  5. When switching from night to days, get the most sleep the following night. Sleep only a few hours shortly after a night shift and try to stay awake all day, going to sleep at a regular bedtime at night.
No matter the industry, has courses that will help keep employers and employees focused on best work practices. With courses in Quality Management, Occupational Safety, and HR Compliance, we are a one stop for all your training needs. Learn more today and discover how you can transform your workplace through easy-to-understand, online training.   Sources:
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