Night shift workers can suffer chronic mental and physical health problems
and need better advice
Health and safety professionals need to do more than simply hand out
self-help guides to night shift workers if they want to help them cope with the
health effects of changing their routines, the Health and Safety Executive has
Night shift working can pose a chronic risk to a worker’s mental and
physical health because of the disruption to sleeping, eating, social and
domestic routines that often goes with it, it warned.
The HSE has now published research looking at how people who work on night
shifts can be helped to cope with their lifestyle.
While there are many self-help guides about, until now nothing has been
known about whether they help to change behaviour. A sample of shift workers
from the Lothian and Borders Police was studied.
They were given a self-help guide and then asked to fill in a questionnaire
to see if it had helped to change their attitudes and health-related behaviour.
The study found there was negligible change, although whether this was from
the nature of the information, its delivery, uptake or simply the difficulty of
persuading people to change deep-seated behavioural patterns, was not clear.
Organisations needed to adopt a more proactive and intensive programme of
behaviour change to educate shift workers on how to improve their health,
perhaps involving counselling, suggested the HSE.
Trevor Shaw, head of the human performance and fatigue section of the HSE’s
health directorate, said, "The HSE is increasingly concerned about the
health and safety aspects of shift working and is keen to explore ways of
mitigating the effects.
"This research suggests that simply distributing advice to shift
workers in the hope it will influence their coping behaviour is not
In The Shiftworkers Guide, the HSE recommends shift workers should not eat
fats, red meat or spicy food in the middle of the night and they should wind
down by having a bath or shower.
Workers should also use an answering machine to field telephone calls, turn
off the doorbell and avoid sleeping pills.