Shift workers who are working night shifts are approximately 25–30 per cent more at risk of injury than those working day shifts, according to new British research.
Researchers from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) examined five aspects of well-being including chronic fatigue, emotional reactivity, social isolation, stress, and overall health.
They found that shift workers reported higher levels of chronic fatigue, as a result of the disturbance of biological rhythms that occur as a result of shift work.
Working a 12-hour rather than an eight-hour shift also increased the risk of injury, again by 25–30 per cent, with risk increasing evenly over four consecutive shifts.
“Over many years the disruption of these biological and social factors may have negative long-term effects, which is of considerable concern amidst COVID-19 with the shift patterns being extended in workplaces worldwide,” IOSH says.
“By disrupting the body clock, sleep, alongside family and social time, the disruptions can result in acute effects on mood and performance, which may lead to long-term effects on mental health: impacting both workers physical, psychological and psycho-social health as well as safety.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also raised their concerns for healthcare workers working 12-hour shifts in critical care, particularly during COVID-19.
The RNC is urging healthcare employers to consider the specific risks faced by those working 12-hour shifts in a critical care environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, including:
- Wearing PPE for long periods which is physically demanding, and can result in potential heat stress
- Errors when donning and doffing PPE
- High levels of moving and handling activity when positioning patients
- Increased time exposed to patients with infection, leading to a potentially increased viral exposure
- The potential for errors or safety lapses caused by fatigue.
“Where staff are working long hours, employers should provide an appropriate level of supporting facilities such as rest areas, accommodation, access to food and drink, toiletries etc as required, to enable the safe and effective provision of services during this period, ” the RNC said in a statement.
Based on the IOSH study, researchers’ recommendations include a mixture of common-sense changes by individuals to their lifestyles and practical measures by employers to the working environment.
“These changes include evaluating shift schedule design such as length of breaks and start and finish times – allow adequate time between shifts for sleep and meal preparation, providing at least 48 hours between shift changes and to provide regular (annual) health checks for shift workers and transfer them to day work if required.”