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Dangers of long-term shift work

Thursday, 20th November, 2014, by Joanna Weekes

In today's Health & Safety Bulletin:
  • Dangers of long-term shift work
  • 7 tips for managing shift workers
Dear Reader,
Depending on your industry and your specific circumstances, your business may require shift workers so that you can continue to provide services after normal business hours.

Shift work is being used more and more often as businesses strive to maintain their competitiveness, and consumers increasingly expect services and support to be available up to 24 hours a day.

Shift work may be a necessary part of your business, but there are dangers to workers who undertake long-term shift work, including suffering fatigue and long-term health problems.

In today’s Health & Safety Bulletin, Michael Selinger will discuss the risks posed to workers who undertake long-term shift work, and will outline 7 tips you can put into practice to manage the dangers of shift work.

Don’t forget, if you’re a subscriber you can find out more about shift work by referring to chapter S6 Shift Work in your Health & Safety Handbook or by writing to the Health & Safety Helpdesk if you have a specific question. If you’re not a subscriber, find out about the benefits of subscribing here.
Enjoy your weekend!
Joanna Weekes
Joanna Weekes
Health & Safety Bulletin
P.S. In the coming weeks we’ll be launching an important new guide to help you conduct a fair and effective workplace investigation.
The aim of this resource is to provide clear and practical guidelines to help you resolve a variety of potential workplace conflicts and complaints and achieve the best possible outcome for your business and your staff. We’ll keep you posted!
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7 tips for managing shift workers
By Michael Selinger
Editor-in-Chief, Health & Safety Handbook
A research study was reported in the Australian Financial Review this month which found that people who undertake shift work for 10 years or more may suffer loss of memory and brain power.

The research is yet another example of the risks involved in long-term shift work, which has been known to disrupt the body's internal clock, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm.

Shift work has also been associated with health problems, including stomach ulcers, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

In the research report, the trial subjects were studied over a period of 10 years. In about half the cases, the workers had initially done shifts, including night work or shifts that alternated between morning, afternoon and night.

Comparing the change in test results over time, and between the two groups who either had or hadn’t undertaken night shifts, an association was found between shift work and ‘chronic cognitive impairment’.

In cases where the workers had done more than 10 years of shift work, the research was said to be equivalent to an additional 6.5 years of age-related decline.

7 tips for managing shift workers

If your business uses shift workers, particularly long-term shift workers, you need to ensure that you:
  • design an appropriate shift schedule that takes into account the nature of the work, skill level of the workers and supervision available;
  • manage any overtime carefully in order to avoid workers getting burnt out;
  • schedule sufficient rest breaks to avoid workers becoming fatigued, especially if the shifts are lengthy or involve high-risk work;
  • provide additional amenities to help workers deal with fatigue, such as resting rooms, massages, etc.;
  • consider implementing a fatigue management plan and commit to measuring fatigue in your organisation;
  • ensure workers are properly trained and supervised. Training can also include information on the importance of sleep, diet and exercise for a shift worker; and
  • put effective shift handover procedures in place so that workers are not exposed to risk by any unexpected hazards when starting their next shift.
If you implement the above measures, you can avoid some of the long-term harm that shift work can cause.
Warm regards,
Michael Selinger 
Health & Safety Handbook
P.S. An apology regarding last Tuesday’s bulletin: not all of the information was 100% up-to-date, as a few health and safety regulators have recently undergone a name change. Here is a complete list of the current health and safety regulators:
Commonwealth: Comcare
ACT: WorkSafe ACT
NSW: WorkCover NSW
Queensland: Workplace Health and Safety Queensland
NT: NT WorkSafe
SA: SafeWork SA
Tasmania: WorkSafe Tasmania
Victoria: Victorian WorkCover Authority
WA: WorkSafe WA

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