What are the risks of long work hours and shift work?

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Risks for Workers:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Lack of adequate time to recover from work
  • Decline in mental function and physical ability, including emotional fatigue and a decline in the function of the body’s immune system
  • Higher rates of depression, occupational injury, and poor perceived health
  • Higher prevalence of insomnia among shift workers with low social support
  • Increased risk of illness and injury
  • Strain on personal relationships, such as marriage and family life
  • Increased risk of long-term health effects, such as heart disease, gastrointestinal disorders, mood disturbances, and cancer

Risks for Employers:

  • Reduced productivity
  • Increase in errors
  • Absenteeism and presenteeism (present at work but not fully functioning because of health problems or personal issues)
  • Increased health care and worker compensation costs
  • Workforce attrition due to disability, death, or moving to jobs with less demanding schedules

Risks to the Community:

  • Potential increase in errors by workers leading to:
    • Medical errors
    • Vehicle crashes
    • Industrial disasters

Research indicates that the effect of long work hours and shift work may be more complex than a simple direct relationship between a certain high number of work hours or shift schedule and risks. The effects appear to be influenced by a variety of factors including characteristics of the worker and the job, worker control, pay, non-work responsibilities, and other characteristics of the work schedule.

Both workers and employers share in the responsibility of reducing risks connected to poor sleep. Therefore, it is important for both workers and managers to make sleep a priority in their personal life and in the assignment of work.

The above is an excerpt adapted from the article,”Sleep and Work.” For more information, please visit www.cdc.gov.

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