According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, millions of Americans are considered shift workers.
While shift work does create potential productivity advantages, it also has many inherent risks. Some of the most serious and persistent problems shift workers face are frequent sleep disturbance and associated excessive sleepiness. Sleepiness/fatigue in the work place can lead to poor concentration, absenteeism, accidents, errors, injuries, and fatalities.
According to the International Classifications of Sleep Disorders, shift workers are at increased risk for a variety of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases.
So what is a shift work sleep disorder (SWSD)?
SWSD is a sleep disorder that affects people who frequently rotate shifts or work at night. Schedules of these people go against the body’s natural Circadian rhythm, and individuals have difficulty adjusting to the different sleep and wake schedule. SWSD consists of a constant or recurrent pattern of sleep interruption that results in insomnia or excessive sleepiness. This disorder is common in people who work non-traditional hours, usually between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.
The issue becomes more alarming when you consider that shift workers are often employed in the most dangerous of jobs, such as firefighting, emergency medical services, law enforcement, security and operation of dangerous equipment.
Managers and policy makers who are responsible for writing and enforcing rules regarding employee work hours must address the specific issues of a 24-hour work force in order to succeed and reap the benefits from such a labor force.
Although addressing these issues may require some investment up front for training and other measures, the bottom line is that improved sleep in workers may lead to improved productivity. In fact, to ignore the needs of the shift worker is reckless and irresponsible when you consider that billions of dollars in yearly costs, thousands of deaths, and some of the most notorious of modern catastrophes such as the failure of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the crash of the Exxon Valdez have been attributed to human fatigue.
For more information:
Click here to download a study on SWSD from the Center for Disease Control.
Click here for more information on Circadian rhythm disorders.