The im­pact of shift work on health

Pakistan Observer - - KARACHI CITY -

WHEN Dolly Par­ton sang of work ing 9 to 5, she ex­pressed con­cern for peo­ple barely get­ting by with a hard life of rou­tine that only seems to ben­e­fit the boss. But what about all those peo­ple work­ing less con­ven­tional hours, in­clud­ing night shifts? Shouldn’t Ms. Par­ton be just as con­cerned about their wel­fare?

Shift work­ers, such as doc­tors, flight at­ten­dants, bar­tenders and po­lice of­fi­cers, have been found to be at a greater risk of cer­tain chronic dis­eases. Shift work has its own de­mands that set it apart from jobs with tra­di­tional work­ing hours. Shift work has its ben­e­fits; it can be more con­ve­nient from a child care per­spec­tive, is some­times bet­ter paid and can al­low work­ers time for other ac­tiv­i­ties, such as study.

How­ever, the med­i­cal and sci­en­tific com­mu­ni­ties are con­tin­u­ally re­port­ing that shift work can in­crease the risk of cer­tain dis­or­ders and have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the over­all well-be­ing of em­ploy­ees. In this ar­ti­cle, we take a look at what has been re­ported re­cently about the ef­fects of shift work, what rea­sons could pos­si­bly be be­hind these find­ings and what peo­ple work­ing shifts can po­ten­tially do to lower their risks of var­i­ous health prob­lems.

Shift work tends to be clas­si­fied as any work sched­ule that in­volves hours that are ir­reg­u­lar or un­usual in com­par­i­son with the tra­di­tional day­time work sched­ule that usu­ally oc­curs be­tween 6 am and 6 pm.

The term shift work can, for this rea­son, re­fer to work­ing evenings, overnight, ro­tat­ing shifts or ir­reg­u­lar em­ployer-ar­ranged shift pat­terns. Ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle pub­lished in 2000 by the Bu­reau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics (BLS), over 15 mil­lion (16.8 %) full-time wage and salary work­ers are em­ployed work­ing al­ter­na­tive shifts. Of these, the most com­mon al­ter­na­tive shifts are even­ing shifts, with work­ing hours usu­ally be­tween 2 pm and mid­night, and ir­reg­u­lar shifts with a con­stantly chang­ing sched­ule.

In con­trast, the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia-Los An­ge­les (UCLA) Sleep Dis­or­ders Cen­ter re­ports more than 22 mil­lion Amer­i­cans work even­ing, ro­tat­ing or on-call shifts. Re­cently, the BLS re­ported that the pro­por­tion of full-time wage and salary work­ers em­ployed work­ing al­ter­na­tive shifts now sits at 14.8%. This fig­ure is sup­ported by a poll con­ducted by the Na­tional Sleep Foun­da­tion (NSF) in 2005, which found 14% of Amer­i­cans work shifts.

While there has been a slight drop in the num­ber of white Amer­i­cans work­ing these hours - from 16.2% in 1997 to 13.7% in 2004 - the pro­por­tion of black, Asian and Latino Amer­i­cans work­ing al­ter­na­tive shifts has re­mained largely the same. In May 2004, the per­cent­ages for these groups were 20.8%, 15.7% and 16%, re­spec­tively.

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