Jan 8, 2008

Shiftwork schedules: fixed or rotating

Although some might think workers who always work the night shifts adapt or get used to their work times -- usually the longer somebody does something, the easier it becomes. Over time, many nightshift workers develop techniques to better maintain their alertness but the fact is most nightshift workers are not able to fully adapt and therefore, at least some time, they work in the fog of fatigue.

This fatigue happens because most nightshift workers revert to a day schedule when they're off from work, since that's when most of the world is awake during the day and sleeping at night. Also, many of the errands and chores that accumulate while we're working must be done during the day.

As a result most nightshift workers return to a day schedule so they never completely allow their sleep and body rhythms to adapt to being awake at night. They also sleep less during the day, so they don't recover from fatigue. This fatigue can carry over from day to day. Over several days, fatigue can accumulate to unsafe levels.

People working rotating shiftwork schedules face a similar situation. Because the shift times are always changing, they can never completely adapt to a set shift work schedule. Rotating shiftwork schedules are often used because they are considered fairer to all workers. Everybody in the workforce takes their turn at both the popular and unpopular shifts. Rotating shiftworkers are always trying to get used to changing work times.

This is not easy, which is why rotating shiftworkers have more complaints than other workers about physical health and psychological stress. Research has shown that rotating shifts have special features that might affect a person's ability to get used to the schedule.

I'll talk about those special features in future posts. -- Ed

Source: Plain Language About Shiftwork (NIOSH)

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