Night duty is harmful to health

Does shift work make you sick? Night work and its health consequences

Around 30% of employees in Germany work at night, many of them regularly. Rising order numbers and demographic change ensure that this number is growing steadily. This mainly affects the typical shift work professions such as nursing, police and fire brigade, but the need for night work is also increasing in the construction and transport sectors.

This does not remain without consequences for the employees, after all, regular shift work with alternating shifts or permanent night work can result in health problems. You can find out what these are and how those affected best deal with them here.

Table of Contents

More and more Germans are working shifts. In the long run, this has a negative impact on health.

What is night work?

What exactly is meant by night work is regulated in the Working Hours Act (ArbZG). Here it says in §2 that the time between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. is considered a night shift. In bakeries and pastry shops this is shifted forward by an hour. Night workers are therefore people who do night work in alternating shifts or who work night shifts for at least 48 days per calendar year.

What makes night work so dangerous?

This has a direct impact on health and wellbeing. As early as 1992, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that shift work with regular night shifts is harmful to everyone. This is due to the release of various hormones, which are influenced by natural light conditions.

Melatonin is mainly released at night. It is responsible for reducing our physical activity and making us tired. Light inhibits the formation of melatonin. The result: We are less productive at night and tend not to concentrate, while it is difficult for us to sleep during the day.

In addition to the day-night rhythm, factors such as food intake, social contacts and the outside temperature have an enormous influence on our physical activity. Those who live permanently against their "internal clock" will sooner or later feel the consequences, because a complete adaptation to night work is simply not possible.

Headaches, poor concentration, tiredness - these are just some of the health problems associated with night work. In the long term, there is a risk of gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular diseases and maybe even cancer.

Health consequences of shift work

This can initially manifest itself in the form of poor concentration, headaches and tiredness. Many night workers also complain of insomnia, loss of appetite and gastrointestinal complaints. Men are more likely to be irritable, while women are more likely to be nervous and anxious.

Since the short-term memory works less well and the ability to react and perform well is reduced, the risk of accidents increases considerably during the night shift. The long-term consequences include cardiovascular problems, chronic back problems, diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, a connection between night work and an increased risk of tumor formation is suspected.

However, further research is required here to prove the connection between shift work and cancer. The psychological stress that primarily results from a lack of social contact should also not be underestimated. Night workers find it difficult to coordinate their free time with that of their children, partners and friends, which can lead to the development of depression.

Employers and employees can do that

Employers should therefore endeavor to make shift work as pleasant as possible for their employees in order to have a positive effect on health and well-being. When planning shifts, it is advisable to take individual wishes into account and to protect older employees, as the shift tolerance decreases with increasing age.

At the same time, employee satisfaction increases when they have a say and can attend private appointments. It is also recommended to let the shifts rotate forwards: the morning shift is followed by the late shift and then the night shift. Shift workers usually tolerate this better than backward rotation.

Since a night shift is always stressful, a maximum of three night shifts should be worked in a row. This should then be followed by free time of at least 48 hours. Employees also feel better when they have the opportunity to withdraw to a break room and have access to healthy snacks such as fruit, vegetables and salads.

The employees themselves can do a lot to improve their shift tolerance. This includes a healthy and balanced diet, fixed meals at certain times and sufficient exercise. Anyone who registers in a club to do sports kills two birds with one clap, because this also promotes social contacts.

A healthy diet, sport and social contacts help night workers to cope better with the changed day-night rhythm.

These special regulations apply

In order to protect young people as well as expectant and nursing mothers, special regulations apply to these groups of people in shift planning. They are only allowed to work between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. - night shifts are prohibited. Exceptions apply in certain sectors for young people aged 16 and over. In shifts they are allowed to work until 11 p.m., in bakeries and pastry shops from 5 a.m.

Even if employees find it increasingly difficult to work shifts in old age, there is no age limit above which employees are generally exempt from night work. For this purpose, night workers are entitled, in accordance with Section 3 of the ArbZG, to have an occupational medical examination before they start work and every three years thereafter.

If it is found that the continued performance of night work endangers the health of the employee, he must be able to change to a suitable daytime work station. From the age of 50 he is entitled to this examination annually.

The Büro für Arbeit & Umwelt Managementsysteme GmbH are your reliable partner in matters of occupational health and safety. We support you in preventing potential dangers in the workplace and making everyday work as pleasant as possible for your employees.

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