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PROPERTY & CASUALTY
SEP 19, 2017
The Risk of Shift Work and Long Hours – and How to Remedy It
It’s no secret that lack of sleep can cause problems in the workplace. Sleep deprivation not only impairs worker performance, it increases the risk for obesity, injuries and a wide range of chronic diseases. But shift work and long hours come with more hazards and risks than those associated with lack of sleep.
A study by the National Sleep Foundation discovered that ten percent of night and rotating shift workers had a sleep disorder known as shift work disorder. About 25 to 30 percent of shift workers have symptoms of this disorder such as excessive sleepiness, insomnia, headaches and trouble concentrating.
Sleep deprivation that comes from shift work and long hours can also:
Slow reaction time
Reduce attentiveness and vigilance
When workers are sleep deprived, the chance of an accident can increase. In fact, sleep deprived workers are 70 percent more likely to be involved in work-related accidents. The nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, as well as the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, have been partially attributed to fatigue, sleep loss and night shift work.
Fixing the risk
Shift work and long hours also have a financial cost. Approximately four billion dollars are lost every year due to U.S. work-related accidents.
There are some steps employers can take to mitigate the issue:
Training — provide employees with information specific to the hazards related to shift work, including guidelines on how to best minimize the physiological effects.
Food and beverages — make healthy food and water available to employees taking the night shift. Cafeterias and surrounding restaurants are usually closed during their working hours, making proper nutrition difficult.
Fixed shifts – contracts should minimize, if not totally prohibit, rotating shifts. The effects of a rotating shift are the most difficult to adjust to. If shift rotating is unavoidable, rapid changes (such as two days per shift) are the most harmful. Forward rotations, starting later each day and following the sun are the easiest pattern to adjust to.
Rest breaks — increased break time and nap breaks, if possible, for off-shift workers could be explored.
Scheduling — try to avoid scheduling employees to work more than two or three consecutive night shifts. Make sure to provide adequate recovery time in between shifts.