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 in the US
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.
Shift work is most commonly found within industries that provide services around the clock, such as food services, transportation, health services and protective services like the police force.
At first glance, it appears as though the main factor connecting shift workers is that they work different hours to the typical “9-to-5” routine. However, multiple studies report that there is something else that connects bar staff, long-distance truck drivers, nurses and police officers – an increased risk for certain diseases.