Burning the Midnight Oil

The adverse effects of shift work

For some time, anecdotal evidence has suggested that the lifespan of shift workers is decreased by about ten years. Recent research by Dr. Moore-Ede in the United States determined that, particularly for train engineers and long-distance drivers, this is the case. Another study in Britain found that police officers who retired in their fifties lived on average only another 6.8 years.

Defining Shift Work

One should not assume, however, that these statistics hold true for all shift workers or even for all train engineers, truck drivers and police officers. First of all, it’s important to define ‘shift work’ and ‘shift worker’. With today’s need for workforce flexibility, there are many forms of shift work, primarily defined as ‘non-standard hours of work’—that is, anything other than a regular 9 to 5, Monday-to-Friday type of schedule. Research shows that employees doing any form of shift work are subject to higher levels of stress and fatigue, but the issue of lifespan seems to apply only to those who have a schedule that requires them to work at night, either in rotation with days or other shifts or permanent nights.

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Carolyn Schur
Carolyn Schur is President of Alert@Work Human Resource Services (www.alertatwork.com), a company that provides organizations with strategies for sleep and fatigue management.