THE way patterns of shift work are organised could be causing major health problems, according to a pair of reports commissioned by the UK government body that regulates workplace safety.
The reports, prepared for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), show that offshore oil workers adopting the most popular shift pattern have a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. This pattern also makes workers more tired and inattentive, increasing the chance of accidents and mistakes.
Chronobiologist Josephine Arendt and her team at the University of Surrey in Guildford and psychologist Andrew Smith and colleagues at Cardiff University in Wales separately studied the physiological and psychological health of a group of 45 men working on offshore oil rigs. Both teams compared the two main shift schedules operated on a two-week tour of duty. One was a simple 12-hour shift, with workers staying on night shifts or day shifts for the full two weeks. The other was a split rota of seven night shifts followed by seven day shifts. This was more popular with the workers because they were already adapted to night sleeping when they returned home. But it proved worst for their health.