August 28, 2014

Shift work can be dangerous

Resent research indicates a relationship between shift work and several medical conditions…

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Obesity

Shift work can also contribute to strain of marital, family, and personal relationships. These may not be the only medical conditions attributed to shift work as research is still continuing.

What is shift work?

The Working Time Regulations 1998 as amended lay down the legal requirements on how working time is organised

Shift work is an employment practice designed to make use of, or provide service across, all 24 hours of the clock each day of the week (abbreviated as 24 / 7). The practice typically sees the day divided into “shifts”, set periods of time during which different groups of workers take up their posts. The term “shift work” includes both long-term night shifts and work schedules in which employees change or rotate shifts.

Legislation

Legislation places a duty on management to provide a healthy working environment and reducing the risk associated with shift work In the UK, there is no specific health & safety legislation on shift working. Nevertheless employers have general health & safety responsibilities (e.g. a duty of care in law).

Medical surveillance is a legal requirement for the following workplace exposures:

  • Work with asbestos
  • Work with lead
  • Work with those substances hazardous to health
  • Work with ionising radiation
  • Work in compressed air

When putting in place a health surveillance programme, avoid blanket coverage for all employees as it can provide misleading results and be a waste of money.

Research

“Given the increasing prevalence of shift work worldwide and the heavy economic burden of work related illness the findings, published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, indicated men and those doing rotating shifts were at highest risk.

In the UK, 45 out of every 1,000 adults have some form of diabetes, with the vast majority being type 2.diabetees

But in men, the figure was 35%. For people chopping and changing between day and night shifts, the risk increased by 42%.

shift workers were 9% more likely to have type 2 diabetes. Shift work was linked to a 23% increased risk of heart attack, 24% increased risk of coronary event and 5% increased risk of stroke.

Shift work was not linked to increased mortality rates from heart problems and that the relative risks associated with heart problems were “modest”.

Ensuring workers have a minimum of two full nights sleep between day and night shifts can help people to cope with shift work.

Researchers took the socioeconomics status of the workers, their diet and general health into account in their findings. Shift workers need to be aware of their personal risk of developing type 2 diabetes

The best way to reduce your risk of type 2 is to maintain a healthy weight through regular physical activity and by eating a healthy balanced diet.

They can do this by taking a type 2 diabetes risk assessment, either online or in their local pharmacy.

Work patterns

There are a number of key risk factors in shift schedule design, which must be considered when assessing and managing the risks of shift work. These are:

  • the workload,
  • the work activity,
  • shift timing and duration,
  •  direction of rotation

And the number and length of breaks during and between shifts. Other features of the workplace environment such as the physical environment, management issues and employee welfare can also contribute to the risks associated with shift work.

Keeping health records

Health records are not medically confidential documents. They provide feedback to management on the results of health surveillance, both for the purpose of safely deploying each employee and allowing collective analysis of the overall effectiveness of immunisation for staff at risk. Health records also allow for outcome analysis of ill health from BBV exposure to be done at a later stage (should this prove necessary), as required under regulation 5 of the MHSWR  .

Health records – those showing the outcome of occupational health surveillance – should be held by and available to managers responsible for deploying staff.

The only exception is when an employer can demonstrate that reasonable access to these records is available to such managers whenever the relevant staff are working (eg through health records retained by an occupational health department).

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced a new book that aims to improve the understanding of shift work and its impact on health and safety. More than 3.5 million people are employed as shift workers in the UK. They work in a wide variety of industries including the emergency services, healthcare, the utilities, transport, manufacturing, entertainment and retail. Poorly designed shift-working arrangements and/or long working hours may put them at risk of fatigue, accidents, injuries and ill health.

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About the author

Eamon Griffin