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The Dangers of Shift Work

Factory Lights

Shift workers who work the night shift are susceptible to fatigue and other health problems.

Shift work refers to any type of non-daytime work shift. Night workers, those who work very late or very early and workers who have a rotating work shift are all considered shift workers. According to the American Psychological Association, almost 15 million Americans work night shifts at least some of the time, which makes them susceptible to fatigue and other problems. 

Shift work is common in many industries including manufacturing, health care, security, transportation, hospitality and emergency services. While some companies may be able to eliminate shift work depending on business needs, most of these industries will always require some shift workers. Police officers need to be available to respond to car accidents, crimes and anything else that arises during the night. If a person is injured in a car accident at night, hospital workers need to be available to provide treatment. Pilots and flight attendants need to staff the planes that carry people and shipped goods around the world. The list goes on. 

Unfortunately, shift work has been shown to cause many problems, both for workers and businesses. Shift workers are at risk of developing a number of short and long-term health problems, and because of fatigue, their work may be compromised. Let’s examine some of these risks and the ways businesses can reduce them as much as possible. 

Health Impacts of Shift Work 

You’ve probably heard that you need to sleep so your body can repair itself, and there’s definitely some truth to that statement. Sleep controls many normal body processes, and sleeping outside of normal nighttime hours can interrupt those processes. 

Your body’s natural cycle—called the circadian rhythm—is a 24-hour cycle that includes sleeping while it’s dark outside. You might think that completely switching this cycle and always sleeping during the day wouldn’t cause too much of a problem as long as you get enough hours of sleep, but this isn’t actually true. Light levels impact circadian rhythms, so workers who always work at night still face health problems associated with a disrupted circadian rhythm. 

“Our bodies and brains evolved to relax and cool down after dark and to spring back into action come morning. People who work the night shift must combat their bodies’ natural rest period while trying to remain alert and high functioning. It doesn’t matter whether they get enough sleep during the daytime […] All the sleep in the world won’t make up for circadian misalignment.” – American Psychological Association 

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) reports that body processes including digestion, secretion of adrenalin, blood pressure, pulse and body temperature are all governed by your circadian rhythm. Consequently, shift work can lead to digestive and cardiovascular problems. 

Junk food

Shift workers are more likely to consume junk food because of irregular meal times.

Those who work shifts often eat a poorer diet as well because their meal times may be disrupted. These workers also tend to rely on caffeinated beverages to stay awake. The latter can contribute to trouble sleeping later on, which is why many shift workers end up relying on sleep aids to get to sleep. 

Serious long-term health problems have also been linked to shift work. A recent study from Harvard Medical School found workers whose jobs included rotating night shifts had a higher risk of developing lung cancer and heart disease. Another study found that long-term shift work can lead to decreased cognitive performance. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) considers “shiftwork that involves a circadian disruption” to be a carcinogen and cites research that shows a higher incidence of breast cancer among flight attendants and nurses who work these shifts. 

In addition to causing a variety of health issues, working an unusual shift can disrupt a worker’s social and family life, which can increase stress. 

How Shift Work Impacts Businesses 

Shift work can disrupt the lives of workers, but if you’re not careful, it can also disrupt your business operations. Tired workers tend to not perform as well, they make more mistakes and they are more likely to be involved in an accident. 

Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising, since when we’re tired—especially over long periods of time—regular tasks can begin to feel more difficult. 

As a business, you need to take all preventative measures you can to decrease these risks related to shift work. 

Hospital, Nurses

Medical workers must often work irregular shifts.

The Best Ways to Deal with Shift Work 

The first step is to educate yourself and your workers. To mitigate a hazard, you need to fully understand it. Provide workers with information about what shift work can do to the body and what individuals can do to improve the amount and quality of sleep they get. 

Next, consider the way your business schedules workers who do shift work. More than one opinion exists about the best way to deal with shift work schedules. Some experts suggest switching shifts every few days is best because it disrupts body rhythms less and provides more normal time for social activities. Others point out that several weeks or more of the same work schedule would allow those working night shifts to adapt better. 

EU-OSHA explains that when workers do work rotating shifts, it’s better to rotate their shifts forward. This means having them work a morning shift, then an afternoon shift and then a night shift. It’s easier for the body to adapt in than direction than it is for it to adapt going backwards. 

In general, it’s also a good idea to consult with workers about their schedules to determine what works for them. Also keep in mind that trying to provide workers with a weekend helps them rest and spend time with others. 

CCOHS also recommends workplaces provide rest areas (especially when workers have long shifts) and cafeterias with healthy food options. Workers should also try to maintain a healthy diet and exercise schedule, as this can prevent digestive and other problems. 

Creative Safety Supply

Tired on the job? Take a look at these tips:

 

Would Emergency Responders Be Safe in Your Facility?

Emergency Responder

When we think about emergency responders, we tend to assume they will arrive and take care of emergencies for us. We don’t often think about the safety of these police officers, firefighters and paramedics, though. If an emergency occurs at your business, these people will need to quickly enter your facility, find their way to the problem and perform their jobs.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for these workers to be injured in the line of duty. Burning buildings, chemical spills, robberies and confined space rescues are all dangerous situations. Ideally, you do not want your facility itself to contribute to a dangerous situation by being difficult to navigate. To help emergency responders perform their jobs safely, take these five steps.

5 Tips for Aiding Emergency Responders

Keep Walkways Clear

It’s important to keep walkways, aisles, hallways and other areas where people need to walk clear to prevent slips, trips and falls among your workers. Doing so will help emergency responders, too. If these people need to slow down and navigate around clutter and other obstacles, that means a fire could grow or someone in need of medical attention will have to wait.

Clutter may not seem like it could cause that much of a problem, but imagine if paramedics needed to wheel in medical equipment; that clutter could really get in the way. 

Post Way Signage

Your facility is required to post way signage such as emergency exit routes and directions to fire-fighting equipment, so you should already have a fair amount of way signage in place. (If you need assistance making sure you have all the signs you need, read Rules for Exit Routes – OSHA Standards 1910.36 and 1910.37).

Way Sigage

Additional signs pointing workers and visitors toward pertinent locations will help emergency responders, too. Signs that help people find the warehouse, break room and restrooms might all point someone in the right direction, depending on the type of emergency. Exit signs will also help responders quickly find their way out of the building once they’ve finished their work. If paramedics are trying to get an injured worker to an ambulance, for example, these signs will be critical.

If you want to go one step further and create clear aisles to help people navigate your workplace, you can also use floor marking tape to designate walkways.

Post Hazard Signs

Hazard Label

Hazard signs warning workers of dangerous machinery, hazardous chemicals, loud noises and other risks in the workplace will be useful for emergency responders, too, in some instances. For example, if a hazardous chemical leak occurred, posted labels could quickly communicate to responders what substances they’re dealing with.

It’s true that in some situations there might be people on hand to tell this information directly to responders, but you can’t assume that will always be the case. Making your workplace a visual one with signs and labels will increase emergency responders’ ability to deal with a situation quickly. 

Label Pipes

You might be wondering how labeling pipes is relevant to an emergency situation, but if an accident involving a pipe and its contents occurs, pipe labels can be the difference between a situation getting resolved quickly and a serious problem. When emergency responders don’t know what’s in a pipe that breaks or leaks, they may have to stop what they’re doing and figure out what substance they’re dealing with. If a pipe contains something dangerous, they could also be exposed to that substance without realizing it.

In a larger-scale accident such as a fire or earthquake, it’s possible many pipes will be damaged and emergency responders will need to determine if anything dangerous is leaking.

Pipe labels allow for quick communication of pipe contents, and implementing a pipe marking system will make life easier for your workers, too. (Not to mention, industry standards require you to mark those pipes.) Take a look at this SlideShare for more information about pipe marking:

Safeguard Holes, Openings and Edges

When people are hurrying through your facility, it’s possible they won’t notice obstacles such as openings and edges. Putting up guardrails, toe boards and other physical barriers around or next to these hazards will help protect visitors (and your workers!).

While you’re at it, consider making the walking surface safer, too, by making it less slippery. Ramps, loading docks and stairs can all pose slipping and tripping hazards, and applying anti-slip tape to the floor can help prevent an additional accident.

Plan and Communicate with Emergency Responders

You may have noticed most of the things you can do to assist emergency responders are things you should already be doing to protect your own workers. It’s worth thinking about these things with emergency responders in mind, though. A worker already has knowledge of your facility, but an emergency responder may not; that means you should think about walkways, signage and hazards from the perspective of a person who is new to your facility.

In addition to taking the above steps to make your facility easier for emergency responders to navigate, you can go one step further and communicate with local emergency response services ahead of time about your workplace. Passing important information about your business’ emergency plans to police and fire departments can make things go more smoothly during an emergency. If you workplace handles dangerous materials that could lead to spills and explosions or has many confined spaces where a worker could get trapped, it’s a good idea to share this information so responders will already have a sense of the type of situation they will be dealing with.

Creative Safety Supply

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