The Impact of Shift Work on the health of Workers
Shift Work: The Impact on Worker’s Health
Shift work is defined as any work schedule that varies from the normal 6a – 6p.
20 million people in the US perform shift work. (5) There is strong evidence that suggest that workers who perform shift work for 15 – 20 years have increased risk for developing diseases and disorders that harm the body. (4)
Health care workers make up 30% of all shift workers in the U.S.; Industrial workers come in second at 27%. (6)
These health problems appear to be rooted in the disruption of the circadian rhythm that occurs during shift work. Studies have shown there are a 40% increase of the onset of cardiovascular disease; a 5% increase in risk of stroke for every 5 years of shift work; a significant 50% increase of the onset of Type II Diabetes, and a 50% increase in the diagnosis of breast cancer. These same studies indicate cognitive deficits and even depression as the brain chemistry changes with circadian rhythm disruptions. (4)
A study of the serum lipid levels in shift workers concluded there was an increase of 1.26 mmol/L in shift workers from 1.03 mmol/L of day workers - independent of dietary intake. These findings are considered in the increased risk factors of coronary disease. (1)
A study was conducted to analyze the prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in a sample of nurses. The conclusion was there was an increased risk of nurses who work night shift to be diagnosed with CFS at a ratio of 1,088 in 100,000. The findings again point to a disruption in the circadian rhythm as relative. (2)
The diagnosis of Shift Work Disorder is defined as a type of sleep disorder that occurs when a person is required to work when it is dark and sleep when it is light. They are unable to synchronize their internal clocks to accommodate their work schedules. A full 10% of shift workers suffer from this disorder that seriously impairs their ability to function safely. These individuals may suffer as well from one or more of the above listed health issues. (3)
There is strong evidence linking individuals that perform shift work over long periods of time, with a higher risk of developing these negative health problems. However, it should be noted, some research has indicated that in as little as 10 days of circadian disturbance that our health is negatively impacted. (4)
How important is well rested and alert workers? Consider the role that shift work and fatigue played in several major accidents in the past:
Exxon Valdes – occurred at 12:30 am
Chernobyl – occurred at 1:35 am
Three Mile Island – occurred at 3:30 am
Bhopal – occurred at 3:00 am
The Challenger – decision to launch at 2:00 am
With such profound findings, it is important for employers and employees to combat the negative side effects of shift work. Consider educating shift workers in the following strategies:
Sleep in a quiet, dark room
Use white noise (ex: a fan) to neutralize daytime sounds if needed
Turn off TV and phones
Sleep in a comfortable bed
Eat a healthy bed time snack containing healthy carbohydrates
Follow a healthy diet, exercise and use relaxation techniques to manage stress (7)
These combined strategies can help shift workers achieve restful recovery sleep which may reduce the aforementioned health risks.
-D. Wilson, PTA, Work Injury Specialist, Work Therapeutics, Inc.
(1) The American Journal of Medicine, Vol 93, Issue 3, September 1992.
(2) The American Journal of Medicine, Vol 105, Issue 3, Supplement 1; September 28, 1998
(3) J Clin Psychiatry Vol. 73, March 2012
(4) WebMD – www.webmd.com/shiftwork
(5) United Electric, Radio –Machine Workers of America 1997-2016
(6) Terance M. McMenamin – Monthly Labor Review – December 2007
(7) Andy Wood, PT – presentation DSI National Conference, 2014