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UBC study links shift work to higher risk of work injury

Vancouver, BC -- With shift work on the rise, so too may be the risk of workplace injury. A recent study by researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) concluded that Canadians who work night and rotating shifts are almost twice...


Vancouver, BC — With shift work on the rise, so too may be the risk of workplace injury. A recent study by researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) concluded that Canadians who work night and rotating shifts are almost twice as likely to be injured on the job as those working regular day shifts.

The study examined data on 30,000 Canadians collected as part of Statistics Canada’s Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics. Trends in work injury were compared among workers involved in different types of shift work from 1996-2006. The findings showed that even though the overall rate of work injuries in Canada decreased during this time, the rate of injuries for night shift workers remained stable.

The study found that night shift work was associated with a higher incidence of work injury for both women and men. However, only women had a higher risk of work injury related to rotating shifts, increasing their risk overall compared to men. The researchers suggest that because women are more likely to have childcare and household responsibilities, they may have more difficulties adjusting to shift work and getting enough good quality sleep. Shift work can disrupt normal sleep patterns and cause drowsiness or fatigue, which can lead to workplace injuries.

In the past few decades, the number of Canadians working shift work has risen substantially. The number of women working shifts increased by 95% during the study period, mainly in the health care sector – almost double the 50% increase of men, occurring mostly in manufacturing and trades.

Injuries related to shift work come with a hefty price tag. In 2006, 307,000 work-related injury claims associated with shift work represented more than $50.5 million in costs to Canada’s workers’ compensation system. The study authors recommended that governments and employers consider policies and programs to help reduce the risk of injuries among shift workers.

Although an obvious solution to the risks of shift work would be to eliminate it altogether, this may not be a practical option for many workplaces. According to Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), there are two basic levels where improvements can be made to help reduce the effects of shift work:

1) The organizational level: primarily through the design of shift schedules, education and better facilities, including conducting a risk assessment for every task to be performed during a specific shift

2) The individual level: helping workers to get better sleep, eat a healthier diet, and reduce stress.

More information and comprehensive advice on how to cope with shift work and prevent related injuries can be found on the CCOHS website at http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/shiftwrk.html.