Night Work - Shift Work - Health

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Night Work - Shift Work - Health
Night Work - Shift Work - Health
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Stressful shift and night work

Shift work, night work or changing work can be found in production companies, in trade, in the hospitality industry, transport or in the area of ​​public and private services, e.g. hospitals or transport companies. For many companies it is important or necessary, due to technical, social or economic requirements, to set up a "round the clock" operation or to offer customers extended opening times. There are special labor law regulations for shift and night work. Since the working hours are often in the evening, at night or on the weekend, health and social burdens can arise.


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  • Health burdens
  • Common health problems
  • When do we speak of shift or night work?
  • Health protection measures

Health burdens

By nature, humans are diurnal, their bodily functions are geared towards activity during the day and relaxation at night. Someone who works alternating or night shifts has to be active against the "internal clock". The adaptation of the biological body rhythms (e.g. sleep-wake rhythm or digestion) is only partially successful even with many night shifts and is a burden for the organism. Often, physical as well as psychological and social burdens and unhealthy behaviors are added. Smoking, high coffee consumption, irregular and high-calorie diets should often help to withstand the exertion better. Regular exercise often falls by the wayside.An increased health risk for employees who work shifts and / or night work has been scientifically proven. The risk is particularly high when working all night long.

Common health problems

  • Sleep disorders: These are most common among shift workers on night shifts. They often sleep less than day workers. The duration of sleep is usually shorter with daytime sleep than with nighttime sleep, and the quality of sleep is also poorer during the day.
  • Disorders in the gastrointestinal area: In addition to sleep problems, gastrointestinal problems are among the most common complaints for shift and night workers. These include, for example, appetite disorders, digestive problems, heartburn or flatulence. In the long term, diseases such as chronic gastritis, intestinal inflammation or stomach ulcers can develop. Eating behavior during shift or night work plays an important role. Unbalanced and high-calorie meals can lead to problems such as malnutrition and obesity.
  • Cardiovascular problems: When they arise, various health risk factors come together that are common in shift or night work, e.g. time pressure, irregular sleep times, problems in the private sphere, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, etc. are therefore important for the early detection of health problems regular occupational medical examinations.
  • Social problems: Changing working hours are a challenge for a functioning social and family life. It is often difficult to find a rhythm that allows you to maintain social contacts and enjoy some leisure time together with family or friends. In the case of a partnership between two working partners, there is additional coordination effort.
  • Mental health problems: Common symptoms of shift workers and night workers include internal restlessness, nervousness, sexual problems and depression.

When do we speak of shift or night work?

Legal provisions on shift work can be found in the Working Hours, Rest Period and Labor Constitution Act. Shift work occurs when several employees or work groups take turns at one workplace. A night worker is someone who works regularly or for at least 48 nights in the calendar year during the night (10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.) for at least three hours.

For night workers, the usual daily and weekly working and rest times also apply. The weekly rest periods are generally 36 hours and the daily rest periods are generally eleven hours. If the employees are ready to work at night, they are entitled to additional rest periods under certain conditions. In the case of shift work, a shift schedule is required by law, in which certain regulations must be observed, including the works council has the right to participate. In the case of fully continuous shift work (shift work takes place around the clock, seven days a week), the shift schedule must be submitted to the labor inspectorate.

Health protection measures

Companies can make a significant contribution to reducing the possible negative effects of shift or night work on the health of employees. This is intended to preserve the workforce and avoid sick leave. Important areas are on the one hand the appropriate design of shift schedules and working conditions, and on the other hand the promotion of health-promoting behavior among employees.

  • Health-promoting and socially compatible design of shift schedules: Shift systems rotating briefly forward (e.g. two early, two late and two night shifts) are less harmful to health than long rotating shift systems (e.g. weekly change of shift type).
  • Offer of regular occupational medical examinations: Employees are entitled to free occupational medical examinations of their state of health, namely before starting night work and at regular intervals thereafter, whereby the employers must ensure the possibility of an examination (Section 51 Employee Protection Act (ASchG) and Section 5 of the Ordinance on Health Monitoring at Work (VGÜ), see Labor Inspectorate). The health check can be carried out by an occupational physician commissioned by the company.
  • Nutrition: The company is supposed to provide warm and easily digestible meals during the night shift. Further information: Night-time shift workers.
  • Information and education: How a healthy lifestyle - regular exercise, a healthy diet, not smoking, coping with stress - can reduce the burden of shift work or night work.
  • Workplace health promotion: With the help of a workplace health promotion project, particularly stressful and health-damaging factors can be identified and solutions can be worked out.

For more information, see Labor Inspection.

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