HSE Research Says Shiftwork Can Pose Health Risks

The UK's Health and Safety Executive recently published research\r\nwhich looks at a method of helping those working on night shift cope\r\nwith their lifestyle.

The UK''s Health and Safety Executive recently published research which looks at a method of helping those working on night shift cope with their lifestyle.

The disruption to sleeping, eating, social and domestic routines that comes with night shiftworking can pose a chronic risk to mental and physical health, HSE said.

Scientific literature suggests that giving people information on how to cope with the demands of night working may reduce the health costs associated with it.

HSE commissioned a study of the issue, examining the effects of a self-help booklet, The Shiftwork Guide, which aims to improve worker health and the way they adapt to shifts using coping strategies.

Advice in the guide includes:

  • Don''t eat fats, red meat and spicy food in the middle of the night.
  • Wind down after a shift by having a bath or shower.
  • Use a telephone answering machine.
  • Turn off the doorbell.
  • Avoid sleeping pills.

The research was carried out on a sample of shiftworking police officers. They were given a copy of the self-help guide and then asked to fill in a questionnaire to establish the extent to which the guide had helped change their attitudes and health-related behavior for coping with shiftwork.

Overall, the results showed that changes in attitudes and behavior were negligible, said HSE.

"HSE is increasingly concerned about the health and safety aspects of shiftworking and is keen to explore ways of mitigating the effects," said Trevor Shaw, head of the Human Performance and Fatigue Section of HSE''s Health Directorate. "This research suggests that simply distributing advice to shiftworkers in the hope it will influence their coping behavior is not enough."

Shaw said the results indicate that companies need to adopt a more proactive and intensive program of behavior change to educate shiftworkers on how to improve their health, rather than simply giving them information.

"This could involve counseling sessions," said Shaw. "There should also be an company-wide approach to reduce exposure to the detrimental aspects of particular characteristics of shiftwork."

by Virginia Foran

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