We live in a global economy that requires services and products to be delivered around the clock. For the 8.6 million Americans that work outside of the normal 9am-5pm schedule, it can make it difficult for them to fully adapt.
How does this impact an employee’s ability to be safe and healthy?
We examine the root problems of shift work and four solutions you can start implementing today.
The Connection Between Shift Work and Fatigue
According to a recent study from NIOSH, night shift workers experience the greatest risk of sleep problems as compared to all other workers. 6, 350 adults who currently worked shifts in the evening (between 4pm-midnight) and night (between 7pm-8am) answered questions about their sleep patterns, length of sleep and quality of sleep.
Results showed that 61.8 percent of night shift workers slept less than seven hours, compared with 35.9 percent of daytime workers.
One of the greatest risks for fatigued workers is a delay in response time.
Memory, judgment and decision-making are significantly reduced in night shift workers, which can mean the difference between being a victim or being the cause of an injury!
Short-Term and Long-Term Risks
Fatigue on the job causes employers $350 billion each year, but it has a direct solution: if an employee is tired, they can get more sleep and restore their energy level. These other health issues don’t have such a quick fix.
Studies show shift workers can have an increased risk of:
- Breast cancer
- injuries and accidents.
While the long-term health effects aren’t easy to measure, researchers have found a connection between shift workers and certain cardiovascular issues, such as heart disease and depression.
While it’s the responsibility of every employee to make healthy choices (enough sleep, eating well, staying hydrated), there are some things the employer can do to help facilitate the safest work environment possible.
4 Shift Work Solutions For a Safer Workforce
Here are four ways you can advocate for your employees. Sometimes by taking the simplest steps can make the greatest impact!
1. Sleeping on the job. Night shift workers experience a disruption to the circadian rhythm (the 24 hour internal clock that cycles between alertness and sleepiness, based on light and darkness – otherwise known as your sleep/wake cycle). Because of this, night shift workers require more sleep than those who are awake during the daylight hours and working on a traditional schedule.
Allowing (and even advocating!) for short naps on their shift when appropriately safe to do so can reduce fatigue and increase alertness.
2. Conduct a risk assessment prior to the start of each shift. Enlist the assistance of a supervisor before leaving his/her shift to assess the work environment for safety hazards. Be sure their work area has proper ventilation, good lighting and break areas are designated for shift workers, needing to combat fatigue.
3. Examine start-end times. The time that your employees start a shift has shown to make an impact on their alertness, fatigue levels and overall productivity. Start times should be reasonable: the earlier they start, the less sleep they’re likely to get.
Night shifts shouldn’t be too long. This will allow employees to get more undisturbed sleep.
4. Choose easier-to-adapt shift changes. Choose carefully the direction that you’re rotating employees’ schedules. For example, when you ‘rotate forward’ (morning, to afternoon, to night) it’s been shown to be easier to adjust to than backwards rotation or irregular shift rotations.
You can’t stop injuries from happening, but you can enforce a safe working environment to minimize their risk of getting hurt. Do you experience employees fatigued on the job, or not sure how to handle your employees health?
We provide early intervention with telephonic nurse case management and employee health programs. Put your plan in place before an injury occurs!
Heather lives and writes by the motto, “No coffee, no workee,” and is passionate about helping others live a happier and healthier life. When she’s not writing away, you can find her playing basketball with her two sons, planning her next getaway “somewhere tropical” or trying out a new recipe with chocolate as the main ingredient.