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Risk of injury higher for shift workers

Awareness first step to reduction


November 8, 2010
by CanadianManufacturing.com Staff

Shift workers are nearly twice as likely to get injured on the job compared to those who work regular hours, according to a new study from the University of B.C. (UBC).

The study, which used Statistics Canada’s data on more than 30,000 people, found the country’s overall work injury rate decreased between 1996 and 2006 — except among employees who worked night or rotating shifts.

In 2006 alone, shift work-related injury claims cost Canada’s workers’ compensation systems more than $50.5 million.

“The disruption of normal sleep patterns can cause drowsiness or fatigue, which can lead to workplace injuries,” said Imelda Wong, one of the study’s authors and a PhD candidate at UBC’s School of Environmental Health.

Women were at greater risk of injury, likely due to the added household or family responsibilities, the study suggested. It also found the number of females putting in odd hours grew by 95 per cent, mainly in health care.

For men, the number of shift workers increased by 50 per cent.

“Manufacturing employed the most number of men who work at nights,” Wong said, adding they’re interested in examining risk estimates among this set of workers.

Until then, Wong said she hopes the study will promote dialogue between employers, workers, and policy makers to come up with solutions that minimize shift work injuries.

Stirring dialogue is exactly how managers can start to cut back on risks, according to Jan Chappel, technical specialist with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

“Just being aware that there is a risk is an important first step for preventing injuries,” Chapel said, adding employers can conduct workplace risk assessments to identify areas where safety could be improved.

“Look at accident reports, check for common occurrences on night shifts or maybe on day shifts if people had a quick turnover from nights,” she advised.

“A lot of the time there may be less supervision on the night shift and not everyone may be aware of proper procedures. You need to be diligent to ensure everyone is getting the same safety training,” she said.

The CCOHS says environment changes can make a difference, including good lighting, rest facilities, healthy cafeteria options and workstations that are close together so employees can stay in contact.

Employers can reduce risks by optimizing shift schedules, such as rotating shifts forward from day to afternoon to night since circadian rhythm — the 24-hour body cycle — adjusts better when moving ahead than back.

It recommends providing a rest period of at least 24 hours after each set of night shifts, with more rest time allowed for each consecutive night worked.