Shift Worker Health and Safety

Source: Anek Suwannaphoom - 123RF

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows about 15 million Americans perform some sort of shift work, with numerous studies linking adverse conditions such as obesity and cancer.

A recent series of National Safety Council report states that 13 percent of workplace injuries are attributable to fatigue.

A report in Safety + Health states that experts emphasize the importance of collaboration among employers, employees, industry stakeholders and scientists to help address continued concerns about fatigue and long-term health risks among shift workers.

Among the studies is 2017 research from Chinese and Dutch scientists that found permanent night shift workers are 29 percent more likely to become overweight or obese than workers on rotating shifts.

In January, another group of Chinese researchers concluded that women who have been long-term shift workers may be 19 percent more likely to develop breast, skin and gastrointestinal cancer.

According to a 2016 study from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, shift work can disrupt circadian clocks, decreasing a person’s sleep quality, mood, metabolism, and cardiovascular health, while boosting the risk for some diseases.

NIOSH directs shift work employers to:

  • Set at least 10 consecutive hours of protected off-duty time each day. This is intended to help workers sleep seven to eight hours each day;
  • Provide brief breaks every one to two hours during demanding work, and allow for longer meal breaks;
  • Acknowledge that five eight-hour shifts or four 10-hour shifts typically are tolerable. If 12-hour days are required, include more frequent breaks or trend toward “lighter” tasks, such as desk work; and
  • Educate employees on the nature of shift work and resources available.