Irregular working hours are becoming more common in many industries, which inevitably creates problems such as effects on health and social life. Very few people can adapt completely to shift work and irregular working hours.
Shift workers may suffer from disturbed sleep patterns, stomach complaints etc. Shift work must be arranged and adapted to prevent the shift worker from becoming socially isolated. Work should also be planned with regard to the employees’ chances of using public transport to and from their work.
There are various reasons for adopting shift work. First, shift work is needed where continuous production cannot be interrupted for technical reasons. Second, shift work is adopted in railways, fire stations, hospitals and other public services. Third, shift work is also introduced for economic reasons to make more use of costly equipment.
The effects of shift work are primarily dependent on shift systems. The effects are more significant when the system involves night work or does not allow a weekend break.
Types of shift systems are
The discontinuous shift system
: The undertaking operates less than 24 hours a day with a daily interval and usually a weekend break (e.g. morning and afternoon shifts).
The semi-continuous shift system
: the undertaking operates 24 hours a day but with a weekend break.
The continuous shift system
: the undertaking operates 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
The workers can be assigned to shifts either
- By fixed (or permanent) shifts in which each crew is permanently assigned to the same shift.
- By rotating shifts.
In the case of rotating shifts, the frequency of rotation from one shift to another is important. Crews may change shifts every week or at shorter or longer intervals. Numerous variations are possible, especially for continuous shift systems. There are also irregular shift assignments as in the case of train drivers or broadcasting stations.
Some problems of shift work
Working on different shifts causes a disturbance in normal biological rhythms. The body temperature varies during the day, and normally has its minimum in the early morning hours and reaches a maximum in the evening. This coincides with other changes in blood, tissues, hormonal and brain activities which are suited to the day-work and night-sleep pattern.
These rhythms cannot be reversed completely by transfer to night shifts. It is known that complete adaptation does not take place even after continuing the day sleep and night-work pattern for weeks. This is one reason why night work is arduous and why day sleep is shorter and less recuperative than the normal night sleep.
The disadvantages of shift work
Effects on the workers’ health
: The disturbance of normal biological rhythms brings about special problems. These include digestive disorders, fatigue, and sleep disturbances. Chronic ill health can result in the form of stomach and intestinal disorders. Lack of sleep can, moreover, lead to various nervous complaints.
Effects on family and social life
: Shift workers often have difficulty with family activities and maintaining normal contact with their spouse, parents and children. Social relations hips are also disturbed. This includes contact with friends, participation in clubs, associations and trade union activities and public entertainment.
To improve the conditions of shift workers, action in two areas is needed:
1.Improving shift schedules
2. Improving conditions of work and life
- Shorter hours of work (including reduction in weekly hours of work, granting of additional holidays and limiting the proportion of working life spent in shift work): a reduction in working time helps relieve burdens inherent in shift work.
- Arrangements to allow workers to choose their work shift in the case of fixed shifts.
- Improvements in the frequency and pattern of shift rotation: rapid rotation with more crews is generally favoured as it reduces the need for adjustment and the frequency of night shifts.
- Sufficient rest periods between shifts.
- Sufficient rest days, especially weekends.
- Changes in shift rotation time, if necessary.
- Fixing meal breaks and other breaks during shift;
- Providing canteens or other facilities for meals and drinks;
- Providing transport services;
- Ensuring first-aid services and medical supervision;
- Providing places to rest and relax during breaks and providing recreational equipment;
- Improving housing conditions; improving access to training and social activities.
- Since the difficulties of shift workers are increased with night work, systematic efforts particularly necessary to reduce the burdens of such workers.