The Health Hazards of Shift Work

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The hazards of the workplace for shift workers have consequences on many levels. Shift work causes employees a host of psychological and health problems. Not only is shift work bad for your health, it’s also bad for your health.

To learn more, checkout this infographic created by Eastern Kentucky University’s Online Bachelors in Occupational Safety program.


Infographic on The Health Hazards of Shift Work

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Shift Workers in the United States

According to recent statistics, there are 15 million Americans whose full-time jobs require them to work the night shift or work irregular hours. Of the full-time workers being paid an hourly wage or receiving a salary, 15% of them work their shifts outside the conventional hours of 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday. 40% of workers – or two out of five- have a regular schedule that involves working nights, weekends, or rotational shifts. These types of shift jobs are predicted to increase in growth during the next 10 years. This means that more full-time employees will have to do shift work to retain and maintain employment.

Shift Workers and Industries

The two industries with the most shift workers are customer service and manufacturing. Shift workers in the manufacturing and production industries account for 83% of the workforce. The customer support industry has 59% of its employees doing shift work. The third largest amount of shift workers – 51% – are found in the transportation and distribution industries. The next highest number of shift workers is in the information technology and facilities industries, each with 49% of employees. 48% of nurses do shift work.

How Shift Workers are compensated

Companies determine pay for their shift workers in a few different ways. In some companies, the third shift workers earn slightly more money than the second shift workers. Other companies pay employees who work the holiday shifts time and a half for every hour they work. Another way companies compensate shift workers is to give them extra paid time off that is not available to daytime workers.

Health Complications of Shift Workers

When it comes to getting enough rest, 44%, or nearly 2.2 million people of nighttime shift workers have short sleep periods. These shift workers also have a 61% chance of having insomnia, compared to 47% of daytime workers. Nighttime shift workers also suffer from more sleepiness during the day than daytime workers. 30% of nighttime workers are sleepier during the day versus 18% of daytime workers.

Nighttime shift workers also suffer from higher stress levels. This is partially due to missing out on important events in their family’s lives such as graduations, weddings, birthday celebrations and other social events with family and friends. Shift workers are also at a higher risk for serious diseases. These shift workers have a 23% higher risk for heart attacks, a 5% higher risk for strokes, and a 24% higher risk for all cardiovascular diseases combined.

There is also evidence to support that shift workers lose cognitive function over time. After 10 years of doing shift work, the cognitive function declines as though a person has aged 6.5 years.

How Shift Workers Can Stay Healthy

There are several things shift workers can do to keep themselves healthy. Two of the best ways are to eat well and exercise regularly. This means eating a balanced diet consisting of the main food groups. Regular exercise also helps shift workers to stay healthy. It’s also important for shift workers to get enough sleep. Since these workers sleep during the day, they need to block out the sunlight by using window coverings or by wearing a sleep mask. Another way to improve sleep is to avoid the stimulation of sunlight by wearing sunglasses when they return home in the early morning hours.

Other Factors Affecting Shift Work

One way for shift workers to stay alert while on the job is to drink caffeinated drinks such as colas, coffee or tea. It’s also a good idea to do the most boring tasks at the start of the shift when the worker is more alert. Studies show that shift workers are most sleepy around 4 to 5 am.

Many studies show that men have a better tolerance for shift work than women. Other studies reveal that extroverts handle shift work a little better than introverts. Recent polls show that 20% of shift workers don’t have a problem with their work hours. Although 60% have a problem with shift work, this doesn’t prevent them from doing their jobs. Another 20% have a severe problem with shift work, and half of these workers can’t tolerate doing shift work.

Shift work is not for everyone, but it’s an important part of the American workforce and can provide many great opportunities for those in which the it suits best.