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CCOHS Safety Tips: Getting a handle on shift work

How to avoid the negative effects

March 24, 2015   by PLANT Staff

Working nights disrupts normal sleep patterns. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

Working nights disrupts normal sleep patterns. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

Shift work is a reality for about 25% of the North American working population and with more occupations and industries operating around the clock, this number is not likely to decrease.

Circadian rhythms are our body’s biological clocks that manage various internal functions throughout a 24-hour day, using daylight and darkness as cues. Working during the night and sleeping during the day is contrary to our natural rhythm, which disrupts sleep and the body’s recovery from physical and mental activity during these “opposite” hours.

Risks associated with shift work include: shorter sleeps and/or poorer sleep quality than regular day workers; a higher risk of breast cancer and an elevated risk of other types of cancer; an increased risk of heart disease; some studies indicate a higher risk of pre-term delivery, gastrointestinal disorders and mental health problems; a higher risk of workplace injury than morning or afternoon shift workers; and shifting schedules increase injury risk.

Here are some tips for employers that will reduce risks:

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  • Avoid permanent (fixed or non-rotating) night shifts.
  • Keep consecutive night shifts to a minimum.
  • Avoid quick shift changes.
  • Free weekends are better than a single day off.
  • Avoid several days of work followed by four- to seven-day “mini-vacations.”
  • Keep long work shifts and overtime to a minimum.
  • Consider different lengths for shifts.
  • Examine start-end times.
  • Keep schedules regular and predictable.
  • Conduct a risk assessment for every task to be performed during a specific shift.
  • Night shifts should not be too long and should end as early as possible so workers get more undisturbed sleep.
  • Make shift changes easily adaptable. ‘Rotating forward’ (morning – afternoon – night) are easier to adapt to than rotating backwards or having irregular shift changes.
  • Morning shifts should not start too early.
  • Consult workers when setting shift schedules.
  • Avoid scheduling the same worker to more than one shift a day.
  • Taking steps to minimize risks will ensure workers are healthier and safe.

This article was provided by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). The not-for-profit federal corporation promotes the physical, psychosocial and mental health of Canadian workers by providing information, training, education and management systems.

This article appears in the March 2015 issue of PLANT.


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General Operations Manufacturing Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) CCOHS management manufacturing Safety shift work


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