Potential effects of shift work on health are probably related to the misalignment between the light-dark cycle and the human activity-rest cycle. Light exposure at night mediates these effects, including social misalignment and leads to an inversion of activity and rest, which, in turn, is linked to changes in behaviours. This article reviews the epidemiological evidence on the association between shift work and health, and possible mechanisms underlying this association. First, evidence from findings of the meta-analyses and systematic reviews published in the last 10 yr is presented. In addition, it reports the larger single-occupation studies and recent large population-based studies of the general workforce. Koch’s postulates were used to evaluate the evidence related to the development of disease as a result of exposure to shift work. Finally, we discussed limitations of the multiple pathways that link shift work with specific disorders and the methodological challenges facing shift work research. We concluded that the clearest indications of shift work being the cause of a disease are given when there is a substantial body of evidence from high quality field studies showing an association and there is good evidence from laboratory studies supporting a causal explanation of the link.
The circadian time structure (CTS) has long been the subject of research in occupational medicine, but not to industrial toxicology, including methods of setting threshold limit values (TLVs) and employee biological monitoring. Numerous animal and human investigations document vulnerability to chemical, contagion, and other xenobiotics varies according to the circadian time of encounter. Permanent and rotating nightshift personnel are exposed to industrial contaminants in the same or higher concentration as dayshift personnel, and because of incomplete CTS adjustment to night work, contact with contaminants occurs during a different biological time than day workers. Thus, the amount of protection afforded by certain TLVs, especially for employees of high-risk settings who work night and other nonstandard shift schedules, might be inadequate. The CTS seems additionally germane to procedures of employee biological monitoring in that high-amplitude 24 h rhythms in biomarkers indicative of xenobiotic exposure may result in misjudgment of health risks when data are not gathered in sufficient frequency over time and properly interpreted. Biological reference values time-qualified for their rhythmic variation, currently of interest to laboratory medicine practice, are seemingly important to industrial medicine as circadian time and work-shift specific biological exposure indices to improve surveillance of personnel, particularly those working nonstandard shift schedules.
This consensus report summarizes the negative impact of work-related psychosocial factors and job stressors on the health and wellbeing of shift workers. Psychosocial factors may (a) directly affect work schedules or (b) mediate or moderate relationships between work schedules, circadian factors, and health. In this paper, prominent psychosocial models (e.g. Job Strain and Effort-Reward Imbalance) are used to help assess detrimental effects, including pathophysiologic outcomes. Several studies indicate the psychosocial environment can be more problematic for shift workers compared to regular day workers. This is likely due to shift worker’s experiencing greater risks of low job control, high physical work demands, lower support from supervisors, and greater levels of over-commitment. Workplace violence is another frequently encountered psychosocial stressor for shift workers more likely to be in regular contact with the general public, such as police officers, security personnel, professional drivers, and other service employees being at elevated risk. A large body of literature confirms night and irregular shift schedules increase risk for injury. Non-diurnal schedules can trigger and worsen such incidents, especially under unsafe conditions. The problem of workplace violence for shift workers, in terms of severity and consequences, is probably underestimated, especially when present among other occupational stressors. Practical considerations and recommendations for action to mitigate the detrimental effects of psychosocial stressors on night and shift workers are presented.
Working time arrangements that require shift work or other non-standard working hours have significant potential to encroach on time that is highly valued for family, social and leisure activity. This can often result in workers experiencing poorer work-family or work-life balance. Based on an extensive literature search and expert knowledge, primary risk factors were identified including shift work; long, irregular and unpredictable working hours; and work on evenings and weekends (in combination and independent of shift work). On the other hand, flexibility, in the form of adequate worker control over work schedules, may be a protective factor. In addition, workers experiencing excessive work-life conflict are likely to reduce their working hours, reflecting a reciprocal relationship between working hours and work-life balance. Workers’ families are also affected by shift work and non-standard working hours. Parents’ shift work is associated with poorer emotional and developmental outcomes for their children, and to a greater likelihood of risky behavior in adolescence. Additionally, the risk of separation or divorce is increased, especially for parents working night shifts. Due to relationships such as those above, the consequences of shiftwork and non-standard working hours on family and social life are largely dependent on a complex interaction between specific work schedules, other aspects of work organization, and family and individual worker characteristics. This article provides an overview of current evidence regarding the relationships between working time arrangements and various social and family variables, and concludes with shift scheduling and intervention recommendations to improve work-life balance and social well-being.
There is no standard definition of shift work universally, and no validated report of complete biological adjustment to shift work in workers. Similarly, the evidence for shift work tolerance is limited due to a small number of studies and a narrow range of outcome measures. This paper discusses evidence to date regarding individual differences in shift work tolerance and highlights areas for future research and recommendations for workplace practice. The few factors that are consistently associated with perceived or actual shift work tolerance are young age, low scores of morningness or being a late chronotype, low scores of languidity and neuroticism, high scores on extraversion, internal locus of control and flexibility and male sex. An important first step is to differentiate between factors that are potentially modifiable, such as those that are determined by lifestyle choices, and those factors specific to the working time arrangement. Identifying determinants of shift work tolerance and the ability to adjust to shift work, whether they are innate and/or acquired mechanisms, is important so workers who are less likely to tolerate shift work well can be self-identified and supported with appropriate harm/risk minimization strategies. This paper also identifies important areas for future research with the goal of increasing the evidence base on which we can develop evidence-based harm mitigation strategies for shift workers.
Interventions and strategies to improve health through the management of circadian (re) adaptation have been explored in the field, and in both human and animal laboratory manipulations of shiftwork. As part of an initiative by the Working Time Society (WTS) and International Committee on Occupational Health (ICOH), this review summarises the literature on the management of circadian (re) adaption using bright light treatment. Recommendations to maximise circadian adaptation are summarised for practitioners based on a variety of shiftwork schedules. In slowly rotating night shift schedules bright light appears most suitable when used in connection with the first three night shifts. These interventions are improved when combined with orange glasses (to block blue-green light exposure) for the commute home. Non-shifting strategies involve a lower dosage of light at night and promoting natural daylight exposure during the day (also recommended for day shifts) in acordance with the phase and amplitude response curves to light in humans.
A substantial body of literature indicates that shift workers have a significantly higher risk of workplace accidents and injuries, compared to workers in regular daytime schedules. This can be attributed to work during nights which require workers to stay awake during normal sleeping hours and sleep during natural waking hours, leading to circadian desynchronization, sleep disruption and cognitive impairment. A fatigue-risk trajectory model developed by Dawson and McCulloch has been used to describe the series of events which may precede fatigue-related incidents. This includes insufficient sleep opportunities, impaired sleep, fatigue-behavioral symptoms, and fatigue-related errors. The purpose of this paper is to provide examples of control measures along each level of the fatigue-risk trajectory, which include: (i) work scheduling strategies to include breaks for adequate sleep opportunities; (ii) training and educational programs to help workers make best use of recovery times for quality sleep; (iii) fatigue-detection devices to alert workers and safety managers of fatigue-related behaviors and errors. A brief introduction to Fatigue-Risk Management systems is also included as a long-term sustainable strategy to maintain shift worker health and safety. The key statements in this paper represent a consensus among the Working Time Society regarding a multi-level approach to managing occupational sleep-related fatigue.
A large number of workers worldwide engage in shift work that can have significant influences upon the quality of working life. For most jurisdictions, setting and enforcing appropriate policies, regulations, and rules around shift work is considered essential to (a) prevent potentially negative consequences of shift work and (b) to improve worker health and well-being. However, the best ways to do this are often highly contested theoretical spaces and often culturally and historically bound. In this paper, we examine the regulatory approaches to regulating shift work in four different regions: Europe, North America, Australasia, and East Asia (Japan, China, and Korea). Despite the fact that social and cultural factors vary considerably across the regions, comparing regulatory frameworks and initiatives in one region can be instructive. Different approaches can minimally provide a contrast to stimulate discussion about custom and practice and, potentially, help us to develop new and innovative models to improve worker well-being and organizational productivity simultaneously. In this paper, our goal is not to develop or even advocate a “perfect” sets of regulations. Rather, it is to compare and contrast the diversity and changing landscape of current regulatory practices and to help organizations and regulators understand the costs and benefits of different approaches. For example, in recent years, many western countries have seen a shift away from prescriptive regulation toward more risk-based approaches. Advocates and critics vary considerably in what drove these changes and the benefit-cost analyses associated with their introduction. By understanding the different ways in which shift work can be regulated, it may be possible to learn from others and to better promote healthier and safer environments for shift-working individuals and workplaces.
Traditionally, working time arrangements to limit fatigue-related risk have taken a prescriptive approach, which sets maximum shift durations in order to prevent excessive buildup of fatigue (and the associated increased risk) within shifts and sets minimum break durations to allow adequate time for rest and recovery within and/or between shifts. Prescriptive rule sets can be successful when, from a fatigue-related risk standpoint, they classify safe work hours as permitted and unsafe work hours as not permitted. However, prescriptive rule sets ignore important aspects of the biological factors (such as the interaction between circadian and homeostatic processes) that drive fatigue, which are critical modulators of the relationship between work hours and fatigue-related risk. As such, in around-the-clock operations when people must work outside of normal daytime hours, the relationship between regulatory compliance and safety tends to break down, and thus these rule sets become less effective. To address this issue, risk management-based approaches have been designed to regulate the procedures associated with managing fatigue-related risk. These risk management-based approaches are suitable for nighttime operations and a variety of other non-standard work schedules, and can be tailored to the particular job or industry. Although the purpose of these fatigue risk management approaches is to curb fatigue risk, fatigue risk cannot be measured directly. Thus, the goal is not on regulating fatigue risk per se, but rather to put in place procedures that serve to address fatigue before, during, and after potential fatigue-related incidents. Examples include predictive mathematical modeling of fatigue for work scheduling, proactive fatigue monitoring in the workplace, and reactive post-incident follow-up. With different risks and different needs across industries, there is no “one size fits all” approach to managing fatigue-related risk. However, hybrid strategies combining prescriptive rule sets and risk management-based approaches can create the flexibility necessary to reduce fatigue-related risk based on the specific needs of different work environments while maintaining appropriate regulatory oversight.