“Shift work” refers to any work schedule outside the typical nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday workweek. Defined this way, about one out of every six full-time American workers does shift work, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) often calls extended/unusual shifts.

Shift-workers live by several kinds of schedules that generally share similar risks for the health and safety of workers, co-workers, customers and the public.

Georgia is among states with the most sleep problems

Georgia and other southeastern states are particularly hard-hit by sleep problems, with about 39% of Georgians suffering from short sleep, which means less than 7 hours per day on average.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine officially lists a disorder called Shift Work Disorder which affects a large percentage of shift workers. Even after going back to more standard hours, people with the condition often have trouble returning to normal sleep schedules.

Almost a third (30%) of shift workers suffer from significant daytime sleepiness, and yet three out of five (60%) suffer from insomnia. It may be no surprise that shift workers are twice as likely to fall asleep while driving a vehicle compared to those who work standard schedules.

OSHA has suggestions for workplaces using shift work

OSHA recommends steps that employees can take, and that employers should allow or require, to reduce the health and safety risks of long or unusual hours.  The agency emphasizes that employers should schedule enough workers to cover the safety measures needed in a shift-work environment.

To battle fatigue, night-shift workers should take breaks frequently according to a regular schedule. The breaks should include substantial breaks such as for lunch or dinner, as well as shorter pauses to stretch, relax and let the worker’s attention do something else for a while.

The mental and physical stress and fatigue of shift work can often lead to costly errors and worker injuries. Employers should first learn the common negative effects of such schedules and their signs and symptoms, including headaches, concentration problems, irritability and depression.

Shift work risks are known and some mishaps foreseeable

OSHA also urges employers to plan for dangers of shift work.

For example, employers should allow employees showing signs of the effects of shift work to “tag out” to rest. And employers should consider scheduling riskier tasks, perhaps involving riskier equipment, earlier in the shift when workers are fresh.