Literature behind Shift Work

Shift work can be defined as work comprising of recurring periods in which different groups of workers do the same jobs in relay.

The mining industry contributes to 20% of shift working employees around the world thus its workers are subject to the

benefits and consequences that accompany this. Due to varying times of shift work, employees are subjected to an

unnatural sleep and work pattern that can have a number of physiological consequences.

Shift work may be seen as beneficial as it allows for 24/7 work, thus increasing yield.

However, it is important to consider how productive workers are during a night shift and

whether this translates to a significant benefit.


The physiological impacts of shift-work are primarily due to the disruption in sleep-wake cycles and the circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythm is a cyclical endogenous process that occurs over a 24-hour period.

It involves a number of metabolic processes that act to optimise many aspects of our biology.

This ensures that physiological processes are occurring at the most appropriate time

(Johnston, 2014).


There is a large amount of research and literature that looks at the impact of shift work on the circadian rhythm and

what affects this has on the individual and their work productivity and safety. A number of studies have described the

negative impacts shift work can cause. These include disruption to physiological processes including the sleep-wake cycle,

psychological distress, impairment of physical and mental health, problems with safety, performance,

and productivity, and interference with social and domestic life

(Smith et al., 1998; Caruso 2014; Al-Hammad et al., 2012).

In all of these research papers, these negative impacts are primarily attributed to the disturbance of

circadian rhythm and the sleep-wake cycle.


Ultimately, disturbed sleep is one of the most dramatic effects of shift work and it can lead to poor health.

This is especially important for workers new to the shift work cycle. One study found that workers who had been doing

shift-work for more than 10 years had lower levels of stress and better health than those who had been doing shift work

for fewer than 5 years (Al-Hammad et al., 2012).

Thus it is important that employees new to the shift work cycle are well integrated and supported.

This would include education on how to deal with the new way of life that shift work causes.


Along with the physical effects of shift-work, there is also disruption to individuals’ social life.

Due to the hours spent at work, employees may feel isolated from friends and the community because

participating in social activities is limited by the hours worked

(LaDou, 1982).


One final aspect to consider is the impact of shift work on nutrition.

Shift work can make nourishment and regular consumption of meals difficult.

One study found that although shift-workers may eat normal amounts food, they are eating at altered times

where there is more irregular eating times, more snacking, and fewer substantial meals

(Johnston, 2014).


In order to cope with the strains of shift-work, WorkCover of the Australian government produced a number of guidelines.

These guidelines aim to aid workers in better managing shift-work in order to enhance health outcomes

(WorkCover, N.D.).

These guidelines included:

How to cope with the strains of shift work:

*A balanced diet and physical activity/exercise can help to adjust to and manage shift work more easily.


*Sleeping in cool conditions can help with getting to sleep and staying asleep.


*Workers should aim for at least 7 hours in bed, with a minimum 4 hours asleep.

Note that rest without sleep is still beneficial for the body.


*Avoid coffee and other caffeine rich food and drink before you will be going to sleep


*Alcohol lowers the quality of sleep.

So avoid having a few beers before going to bed.


*Don’t take on extra work that could reduce the amount of time available for sleep


*Before your first night shift, have a short sleep of a few hours to reduce sleepiness while at work


*If you are having difficulties with adjusting to and managing shift work, talk to your doctor or

other health professional who will be able to help

© 2014 by Sarah Luskie & Madeleine Fisher created with