Health impacts of shift work

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

healthimpactsshiftworkA significant amount of research has been done into the health effects of disrupted sleep-wake cycles (experienced by shift workers), which are sometimes associated with various health conditions, including:

  • heart disease;
  • bone fractures;
  • cancer;
  • diabetes and metabolic syndrome;
  • obesity
  • depression and mood disorders;
  • gastrointestinal problems;.

People who do shift work can experience disruption of their internal body clock (or circadian rhythm) by working at night and then often having trouble sleeping during the day (or by trying to maintain some kind of normality in their routines when they aren’t working).

Disruption of a person’s internal body clock can cause:

  • fatigue and sleeping difficulties;
  • disturbed appetite and digestion;
  • social and domestic problems.

Although many people choose to work shifts to suit their lifestyle, or for other reasons, shift work can have implications in terms of a person’s lifestyle. Shift workers are less likely to exercise frequently, have regular contact with the family and friends, or maintain a healthy, balanced diet, which potentially puts further strain on a person’s physical and mental health.

Employers who employ shift workers have a duty to assess the risks associated with shift work and reduce the negative impact it can have on the health of employees. Various pieces of legislation protect the rights of employees and would be relevant for shift workers (e.g. legislation covering the management of risks), including the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The Working Time Regulations 1998 (as amended) and other industry-specific legislation impose specific requirements on employers with regard to the number of hours worked and how these hours are scheduled. And useful sleep tips for shift workers can be found on the Sleep Council’s website.

For advice on work-related health topics, and the interplay between work and health, visit the Fit for Work website, or call the free advice line on 0800 032 3265.


    • Fit for Work team

      Hi Sayeed,
      Thank you for your query, there has been some research carried out in this area: which concludes that ‘Long durations of rotating night shift work may contribute to risk of hip and wrist fractures’. Yes, there isn’t an absolutely definitive link between shift work and bone fractures across the board, which is why we wanted to phrase the blog in such a way as to communicate only a potential link between the two. Apologies if this hasn’t been made clear.
      Clearly night workers usually have less exposure to light, and light exposure has impacts upon a number of areas of health such as the production/metabolism of certain vitamins, mood, and our internal body clock. Those who work regular nights should always ensure they enjoy fresh air and daylight outside of the work environment between shifts, and on days off work.
      The Fit for Work team.

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