Anyone who has ever worked a night shift will know only too well the disorder it can cause with your life especially health related – the sense of constant tiredness, the feeling of being out of kilter with the rest of the world, the pallid complexion because of a lack of daylight. Employers are also becoming increasingly aware of the very real health issues that can accompany frequent night shifts.
Potential health risks due to night shifts
A recent study of women in the Danish military, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine concluded that working night shifts more than twice a week is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Over a year ago, a weighty study by “social innovation” think-tank The Young Foundation highlighted the wider health risks for workers of both gender from night shifts. It argued that the estimated 1.3 million people who currently work at night in Britain were potentially exposed to not only a greater risk of cancer but also pregnancy problems and poor mental health.
Moreover, night workers were three times more likely to have an industrial accident and twice as likely to have a car accident on the way home from work. It also urged the government to legislate an eight-hour cap in working hours while on a night shift, highlighting that many people often undertake shifts up to 12 or 13 hours long.
Obviously there is a balance to be struck here. In a modern, globalised 24/7 service-based economy there is always going to be a demand for employees to work unsocial hours. Night working, too, has been a reality for many people since pretty much the dawn of time. Yet there is also an imperative, a responsibility, for employers to recognise and take seriously the health risks that can be a consequence of such working patterns.
There may still be a lot we don’t fully understand about our circadian rhythm, how it relates to or is affected by our environment, sleeping habits, health and simple sense of wellbeing – but there should be no mystery around the need to be a responsible employer to those workers who are consistently required to work the “wrong end” of the day.