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.
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.