“Shift work” includes any work that is scheduled outside the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work schedule. Many workplaces use shift workers to keep production running 24 hours a day. Some workplaces need shifts because they must provide 24-hour services, such as hospitals, police stations, and utility companies. Shipping companies often use shifts to ensure cargo gets to its destination on time. Other companies use shifts to increase productivity, such as manufacturing plants.
Not all shifts are set up on the same schedule, and not all workers keep to the same shifts on any one employer’s schedule. A shift may be eight, ten, or twelve hours, depending on the workplace’s needs. Some workers rotate through shifts, so that they work some shifts during daylight and others at night. Other workers are assigned to one shift permanently. Workers may work a regular five-day week, or may work three or four days in a row with intermittent days off. Theses schedules may also be erratic, based on the workplace’s scheduling. Regardless of how shift schedules are managed, however, shift work is known to cause health and safety issues that work during regular daylight hours does not.
Shift work is particularly hard on health because it interferes with the brain’s natural sleep-wake cycle, which responds to daylight by waking up the brain and to nightfall by sending out chemicals that lull the brain to sleep. When a shift worker has to be alert on the job during the hours the brain wants to sleep – typically, 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. – the worker has to fight the brain’s natural desire to sleep.
Shift Work Risks
Over time, the effects of shift work versus the brain’s sleep-wake cycle can lead to chronic illnesses as well as increased injury risks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Risks to shift workers include:
- Sleep deprivation;
- Impaired mental functioning, which may cause impaired judgment or mistakes in work that can lead to accidents;
- Impaired emotional health, including depression and anxiety;
- Impaired physical health, including immune system problems and insomnia;
- Increased risk of illness and injury, including increased risk of causing motor vehicle accidents or industrial accidents that may harm the worker and/or others;
- Long-term increased risk for chronic health problems like heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, mental health issues, and certain cancers; and
- Damage to personal relationships, like marriages and relationships with children.
Ways to Protect Workers in Los Angeles
Since some industries cannot do without workers available 24 hours a day, the CDC recommends that employers take steps to protect employees from the risks of shift work. For instance, allowing workers to take regular short breaks every 1-2 hours is more effective at keeping workers alert than working longer hours with fewer breaks. Workers should also be given at least 10 hours off between shifts, so that they can get the uninterrupted 7-8 hours of sleep the human brain needs. Shifts should also be arranged so that workers who are on the job for longer do lighter work, while those who do more demanding tasks work fewer hours per shift.
Finally, the CDC recommends that employers give workers training and information on the risks of shift work, the possible effects of sleepiness, and methods for reducing these risks. Employers should also provide the break time, supervision, or other resources workers need to manage shift work’s negative effects. These measures can improve workplace safety and productivity.
Advocates for Southern California Workers’ Rights
Shift work can have negative effects in both the short term and the long term. If you’ve been injured during shift work, experienced Los Angeles work injury attorney Kenton Koszdin can help. Call the Kenton Koszdin Law Office today for a free, confidential consultation. We can protect your rights and help you obtain the workers’ compensation benefits that are due to you.