The Unknown Dangers of Shift Work

March 4, 2020
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More than 2-million Americans could be at risk for poor health because of their work hours! According to a recent study by the Journal of American Osteopathic Association (J.A.O.A.), shift workers show an elevated risk for serious health conditions such as sleep disorders, heart disease, diabetes, and more. All shift workers who clock in outside of the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. work hours are considered at high-risk, particularly those who take overnight and rotating shifts.  

Shift workers make up nearly 20% of the United States labor force. They work in some of the most grueling industries and take shifts around the clock to meet the high demands of our modern economy. Connecticut workers shouldn’t have to put their health at risk for a job. These are the health statistics all shift workers should know and the steps to fight for a healthier lifestyle in the workplace.  

Common Heart Problems  

Shift work is a method of employment geared towards providing a 24/hr. service. These employees typically work outside of a normal day shift, more than often evening hours, overnight hours, overtime, and rotating shifts.  

The J.A.O.A. study highlighted several common health consequences associated with shift work that are causing workers long-term harm. The two leading conditions identified were sleep disorders and metabolic syndrome. Both conditions can adversely affect how a worker functions throughout the day and inhibit their ability to perform their jobs safely.  

Sleep Conditions  

The odd hourly demands of shift work can result in workers being tired, fatigued, and groggy. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) reports that nightshifts and rotating shifts are especially dangerous when it comes to a lack of sleep.  

When workers sleep during the day and are awake at night, their body’s circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) can become misaligned, a process known as circadian desynchrony. The amount of sleep a worker gets as compared to the amount they need is often not enough. Periods of sleep can be shorter in length, broken up, or even not occur at all if a worker develops insomnia.  

There has been sufficient research that shows that workers who suffer from a lack of sleep are at higher risk for health conditions, including:  

  • type 2 diabetes 
  • cardiovascular disease  
  • high blood pressure  
  • high cholesterol 
  • weight gain 
  • chronic fatigue  
  • depression  
  • hormonal changes (circadian desynchrony)  

A lack of sleep can also put workers at a higher risk for injuries on the job. According to the C.D.C., sleep deprivation results in impaired judgment, lack of focus, delayed reaction times, and instability. These have all proved to increase the chance of occupational accidents in the workplace.  

Metabolic Syndrome  

Sleep deprivation and circadian desynchrony associated with shift work have also been linked to the onset of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome, as defined by the Mayo Clinic, is a cluster of conditions that increase a person’s risk for chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. The cluster includes:  

  • high blood pressure 
  • high blood sugar 
  • excess body fat around the waist 
  • abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels 

Workers who suffer from three or more of these factors are officially diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. However, having even one of these factors increases your risk for the occurrence of others. Health experts suggest major lifestyle and diet changes to reduce your risk. Yet, shift workers do not always have the flexibility when they are also struggling with lack of sleep and inactivity during the day.  

Past research has suggested that metabolic syndrome was simply a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices and a lower socio economic status. However, the J.A.O.A. found further evidence to prove that metabolic syndrome is heavily associated with circadian desynchrony. For instance, the study cites that nightshift workers could regularly exercise and hold higher paying shift work positions such as doctors and nurses. But with the presence of circadian desynchrony, these individuals were still diagnosed with a higher rate of metabolic syndrome than non-shift workers of the same demographic. 

Industries At Risk  

Shift work is a method of employment geared towards providing a 24/hr. service. These employees typically work outside of a normal day shift that ranges from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. More than often, shift workers will work evening hours, overnight hours, and overtime. Shift workers frequently alternate evening shifts followed by day shifts, called “rotating shifts”. 

While shift workers tend to be paid more for working odd hours, most jobs are often still in low-paying industries. Studies have shown that the industries with the greatest number of shift work schedules include:  

  • leisure/hospitality 
  • arts and entertainment 
  • mining 
  • transportation  
  • warehousing 
  • first-responders 
  • physicians 
  • nurses  

How to Keep Workers Healthy 

All shift workers deserve to lead healthy lives, regardless of what time they clock in. Experts from the J.A.O.A. study provide the following recommendations to help employers and scheduling managers improve the health outcomes of their workers: 

  • Avoid rotating shifts  
  • Give employees consistent exposure to light throughout and before their shift, to improve circadian rhythms.  
  • Use high-intensity lights to simulate daylight indoors.  
  • Reduced blue light exposure by using lightbulbs that block blue lights, blue light filter to eye/headgear, and applications to block blue light on digital screens. 
  • Provide healthy meals and snacks to promote a healthy diet.  
  • Offer health screenings, benefits, and health programs to encourage healthier lifestyles.  

For more information and suggestions on how to improve the health outcomes of shift workers, read more of the J.A.O.A. study here.  

Connecticut Health Advocates and Workplace Accident Attorneys  

Shift workers are the backbone of our country and deserve working conditions that promote healthy and safe lifestyles. Employers and contractors who do not prioritize safety put the lives of their workers at unnecessary risk. If you or a loved one has been injured in a workplace accident due to negligent health and safety practices, you could be eligible for compensation for any damages sustained.  

As Connecticut personal injury experts, we always have your best interests and safety in mind. Our aggressive attorneys at Jacobs & Wallace will help you fight back by providing a free case evaluation to explore all your options for seeking justice against reckless distracted drivers. Contact us today for a free consultation and to explore your rights for justice.  

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