Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Shift workers more likely to have poor health than rest of population


Night-time shift workers are more likely to have poor health and lifestyles, leading to conditions such as obesity and diabetes than those who work more regular hours during the day, according to new national data.

The Health Survey for England 2013 found that 28% of employees who completed shift work last year – defined as being between 7pm and 7am – reported having fair or bad health overall, compared to around 22% of non-shift workers.

Shift workers were also more likely to have diabetes (10%) compared to people working in the day time (around 8%), said the report published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

“Shift workers are exposed to greater health risks, particularly when their working patterns disrupt their internal clock”

Health Survey for England

Similarly, the survey found number of employees who had obesity was higher for those working shifts – almost a third reported having this condition – than those completing daytime hours of work (around a quarter).

The data also found that longstanding illnesses were more common among people working between 7pm and 7am (40% of men and 45% of women reported this) than non-shift workers (36% and 39%, respectively).

Meanwhile, people who worked shifts were more likely to smoke than their non-shift working counterparts, particularly for women.

Just over a quarter of female employees who completed shift work “most of the time” or “occasionally” in the past year reported being a smoker, while 15% of those who did not work shifts said they smoked.

Blurred hospital corridor with three figures in it

However, the proportion of shift workers who drank alcohol in the last year was marginally smaller than those working more regular, daytime hours.

Similarly, non-shift workers were not more likely to drink alcohol at an “increased” or “high” risk level.

The annual survey, which also looks at social care, the use of prescribed medicines and fruit and vegetable consumption among the general population, included 8,795 adults and 2,185 children. It looked at shift workers for the first time this year.

The report authors said: “Shift workers are exposed to greater health risks compared with those who work standard hours, particularly when their working patterns disrupt the circadian rhythms.”

They urged employers and staff to implement policies to combat negative health effects of shift work.

“For instance it is recommended that altering shift patterns are operated, which are maintained for a reasonably long period (eg six weeks) to improve employees’ social life, but avoiding constant change of shift patterns to allow adjustments of the circadian rhythm,” stated the report.

It reminded shift workers that they have a right to receive regular, free health assessments under guidance issued as part of the Working Time Regulations and the Health and Safety Executive.

Shift workers more likely to have poor health than rest of population


Readers' comments (9)

  • This is important and the adverse effects on shiftworkers has been known for many years.

    Employers will be liable if they do not do what they can to reduce the effects on their staff. I understand some American shiftworkers have sued their employers for health damage.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Nurses should not be forced to do night shift as in some hospitals. It should be a choice only. Some nurses are happy to do 2 or 3 nights a week, few care to do both days and nights and the majority of nurses would prefer days only. Still, there should not be a problem covering nights, as more money should be paid to night nurses as their health is more at risk.
    One Ward sister I know give her reason for forcing nights unto all her staff (although she don't do them), as, nurses lose their skills on nights so they must come unto days. So that is the reason the day staff must then move on to nights. How stupid is that, what about using study days and updates.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • No getting away from shifts for nurses, but it's the changing between days and nights that is tough on the body.
    Free health assessments? doesn't appear to be common practice.
    How many computer users take regular breaks away from the screen, change positions, assessed + measured for sitting, reading + typing position to reduce risk of RSI and have annual eye checks + glasses paid by employers.
    Government already tried to scrap unsocial hours enhancements (nights + weekends). Employers have reduced paid study leave. Both expects staff to do more in their own time, like 24/7 vocational care. Seven day services will affect everybody when fully implemented, as all professions + all grades made to work unsocial hours also get paid from same NHS pot of money. It will be more reasons for pay freezes + no unsocial enhancements.
    Better staff support + welfare is needed, with free health assessments, treatment + prescriptions, and employers held liable for failings would be a good start.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Why not pay night nurses more they deserve it. Scraping enhancements will cause more problems to get the staff. Night enhancements that is where money should go.
    Nurses who give so much should be paid right.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I would give up nursing if I was forced to do nights. I did my fair share and was paid more for them when my children were little and it suited my circumstances. I love my job, believe I have the 6 C's but there is more to life and my own well being wil come first. As a nursing sister I would not expect anyone to do what I am not prepared to do myself.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I worked for a housing association allied to and run by the NHS, i worked alongside NHS staff we had no enhancements re shift work and my health has not been the same since.
    Prior to working there(days and waking nights)I could sleep at a moments notice good deep uninterupted sleep, on getting home after nights I couldn't get off to sleepon waking often felt disorientated and sick then started having difestion problems.
    I finished working in that field about seven years ago and still struggle to sleep soundly through the night often waking and struggling to get back off, I have now got acid reflux.
    What amazes me is that it was accepted as a health risk even then but we weren't paid any extra for working them, essentially we worked 3 night shifts and got paid 3, NHS staf worked 3 night shifts and got paid 4....we didn't even have a set pattern sometimes you'd do 3 nights on the run sometimes you'd do 10!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • the constant switching from day to night is dangerous, ding a night shift, going home for a couple of hours shouldn't be allowed, also working 14 hour shifts with no break is wrong

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • You don't need a survey to highlight the impact of shift work on the health of nurses its been known for decades

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Anonymous | 20-Dec-2014 7:00 am

    you have to do something to occupy people's time and justify their jobs by documenting the fruit of their labours as well, in the old days, by filling the filing cabinets and dusty archives, and nowadays to expand the electronic data base!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.