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Is Shift Work Bad for Your Health?

Many jobs in this nation fall under the category of “shift work,” a scheduling practice that employers use to offer 24/7 services. Shift work is common in industries such as oil drilling, health care, and truck driving. Using this type of schedule, the 24-hour day is divided into shifts, and different workers are assigned to each shift. According to one study, more than 20 percent of work in industrialized societies uses shift work. This research found that shift work might seem convenient for employers, but it also might have a negative impact on the health of employees.

How Shift Work Impacts Sleep Quality

One of the most important ways to understand the dangers associated with shift work is learning how it can impact the quality of a person’s sleep and how they feel rested from it. Notably, shift work doesn’t just degrade the quality of sleep—it can also make a restful sleep result in still feeling tired.

Researchers found that shift work interferes with a person’s sleep schedule. Notably, they found that a worker might feel exhausted during shift work, even if they believe they’ve had enough sleep prior to work. This exhaustion occurs because their internal clock—or circadian physiology—interrupts their sleep. As result, though they may have rested for hours, the quality of that rest might be drastically impacted.

Additionally, irregular sleep cycles can cause something researchers call shift work schedule induced sleepiness. When a person experiences this type of sleepiness, it’s because their body is trying to make them sleepy at the wrong time as its schedule has been knocked off balance by varying sleep schedules.

Researchers have found that shift work is associated with health problems such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Employers try to mitigate poor sleep scheduling with fixed schedules, but night shift workers on fixed schedules still experience a great deal of fatigue when they return from breaks. This is due to workers reclaiming a normal sleep schedule on days off, undoing their greatest asset during night shifts.

In short, shift work impacts sleep, is a likely carcinogen, and is linked to a multitude of serious health problems for workers.

Accidents Caused by Shift Work Tiredness

Studies show that shift work comes with risks to industrial workers. Consecutive days of work compounds the level of stress as workers attempt to maintain performance. In fact, though workers expect to face tiredness, they do not expect their exhaustion to cause major accidents.

However, that is exactly what happens. Over half of workers commit several errors while battling fatigue over a 1-year period. The workers’ compensation and healthcare expenses for shift workers costs $36.6 billion annually—almost 20% of all excess costs of shift work.

Shift Work Employers Must Protect Workers from Accidents

Much of the issues associated with shift work (overtime, fatigue, overwork) is not due to scheduling so much as staff size. When employers do not employ enough staff, workers take on more overtime, creating inconsistent work schedules that increase the likelihood of industrial accidents. Employers should employ enough workers to cover all shifts, in addition to relief workers so that employees can enjoy their contractual vacation days. This also allows employers to evenly distribute overtime.

Employers must also provide effective breaks between workweeks. Experts suggest that consecutive working days need to be limited between five to seven days. The longer the shift, the shorter the consecutive working period must be. In addition, experts agree that a single day off between work periods is not sufficient—most workers report a worse sense of well-being on the first day off than any other day. Workers must have two days off minimum, with periodic three-day breaks between seven-day shifts. Otherwise, fatigue will worsen as workers continue to face labor without proper rest.

Did Shift Work Cause Your Accident or Health Problems? Turn to a Team Known for Helping Clients with Work-Related Injuries.

Unfortunately, the nature of shift work means fatigue and human error will eventually cause accidents. Fatigue is a direct result of managerial planning. If your employer’s negligent scheduling has caused an accident, we can secure the resources you need to recover.

If you were hurt in a workplace accident, contact the work injury lawyers at Arnold & Itkin. Our attorneys are passionate about protecting the rights of workers because no one should suffer because they wanted to make a living.

Our firm has secured billions in verdicts and settlements by being the fierce advocates they deserve. We make the fight personal because we know clients are coming to us during the most difficult moments of their lives. Call us today to find out how we can fight for you. We’re standing by to provide a free consultation at (888) 493-1629.


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