WHEN Dolly Parton sang “working 9 to 5”, she expressed concern for people barely getting by with a hard life of routine that only seems to benefit the boss. But what about all those people working less conventional hours, including night shifts? Shouldn’t Ms. Parton be just as concerned about their welfare?
Shift work has its own demands that set it apart from jobs with traditional working hours. Shift work has its benefits; such as convenient time for child care perspective, better pay and can allow workers time for other activities, example study. However, health-wise shift work can increase the risk of certain disorders and have a negative impact on the overall well-being of employees.
Shift work classified as any work schedule that involves hours that are irregular or unusual in comparison with the traditional daytime work schedule that usually occurs between 6 am and 6 pm or working evenings, overnight, rotating shifts or irregular employer-arranged shift patterns or constantly changing schedule. Shift work is most commonly found within industries that provide services around the clock, such as food services, transportation, health services, bar staff, long-distance truck drivers and protective services like the police force.
Shift workers are at risk of type 2 diabetes. In particular those that do rotating shift. Rotating shifts made it more difficult for workers to maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle, negatively affecting sleeping quality and potentially weakening insulin resistance. Secondly it impairs the functioning of the brain due to lack of enough sleep and Increase risk of all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality. Furthermore shift work can lead to workers sleeping at strange or varying times of day, potentially resulting in reduced amounts of sleep.
What can be done to protect shift workers’ health?
The majority of people working shifts do so because it is a necessity of the job rather than out of personal preference, suggestions for people working rotating shifts is to try:
• On the last few days of an evening shift, delay going to bed and waking up by one or two hours. This should make it easier to adapt to a new shift schedule
• Allow extra time to adjust to a new work schedule, without reducing time for sleeping
• Wearing dark glasses or special goggles can help workers avoid daylight and other light cues after finishing a night shift
• Try to stay on the same sleep schedule every day of the week, even on days off, to help align the body clock with the work schedule and limiting the years spent working at night can also be best option for workers to reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases. The general message that getting enough good-quality sleep and minimising disruption to the body’s circadian rhythms are the best ways for shift workers to stay healthy, however, it can be difficult to reprogramme the body’s natural instincts.
The more exposure to circadian disruption for instance, by working longer hours at night for longer periods of time correlates with the onset of more aggressive diseases, from cardiovascular disease to various types of cancers.
Homateni Shatsilika is an Environmental Health Practitioner, Chartered Occupational Health and Safety Practitioner and Occupational Hygienist Technologist Registered with SAIOH (South African Institute of Occupational Hygienists).
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