For several years now evidence has been growing that nightshift is unhealthy. Nightshift and other shiftwork can produce digestive problems, fatigue and impairment, increased breast cancer risks……. OHS and workplace experts seem to avoid the question “should nightshift be allowed?”
Recently, a senior executive met with nightshift staff in a remote branch office. The nightshift work was office- and computer-based. The executive described nightshift as a “lifestyle choice”. This comment infuriated some of the more placid employees to speak up and take the executive to task. Their point was that the job has deadline constraints that have existed for well over twenty years but this does not mean that any of the employees would not jump at the chance of undertaking the same tasks in daylight. Could the nightshift tasks be undertaken in daylight, in a new shift arrangement and still meet the client’s information needs? The question had not been asked and, as a result, nightshift became the unquestioned status quo. Status quo meant that any health hazards associated with the work were similarly seen as unchangeable and therefore not worth assessing.
It is also likely that, as the work is undertaken in the same offices as day shift uses that the low OHS risks of daytime office work were transposed onto the nightshift. This ignores the growing evidence of health risks specific to do with nightshift and displays a dreadful negligence of worker welfare.
Nightshift hazards have changed over time as occupations have moved to more office-based environments. The circadian rhythm approach to nightshifts, generally, have become less relevant. The arguments previously considered fatigue and its relation to being injured in machinery before dawn. Now the risks still relate to fatigue but to the chronic effects of persistent fatigue, to the long-term impact of inadequate diet and the psychosocial results of a disjointed social and family life.
In every workplace, the continued operation of nightshift should be reassessed. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the productivity benefits of nightshift will be negated by the potential financial and physical costs on the workforce. SafetyAtWorkBlog has often noted that OHS has the potential to be an agent of social change. Nightshift seems to be an area that is ripe for change. Either nightshift should be wound back or the health needs of nightshift workers should be taken more seriously.
A nightshift allowance, if it exists, is of little long-term consolation after a mastectomy, or after a car accident on the way to work, or after one’s children go off the rails partly because one of their parents is always in bed and calling for quiet.
Nightshift workers may work in the dark but it is not because they are vampires, or enjoy persistent indigestion, or want to avoid their family. It may be the only job that is available at time. The fairness of a nightshift needs to be considered. Is it fair to pay nightshift workers the same pay rates as dayshift even though they are at higher risks of illness? Is it fair to disrupt a family’s life and the development of children in order to satisfy what one thinks the client wants but has never verified?