Media Release | Nov. 2, 2010

Shift work linked to higher risk of work injury: UBC study

Canadians who work night and rotating shifts are almost twice as likely to be injured on the job than those working regular day shifts, according to a study by researchers at the University of British Columbia.

The study, published in the current issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, examined data on more than 30,000 Canadians collected as part of Statistics Canada’s Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics and compared results between workers involved in different types of shift work from 1996-2006. It shows that while the overall rate of work injuries in Canada decreased during this time, the rate of injuries did not decline for night shift workers.

The study also found that the risk of work injury associated with shift work was more pronounced for women, especially if they work rotating shifts.

“The disruption of normal sleep patterns due to shift work can cause drowsiness or fatigue, which can lead to workplace injuries,” says Imelda Wong, a PhD Candidate at UBC’s School of Environmental Health and the study’s lead author. “Our research shows that people working rotating and night shifts are more likely to experience an injury than those who work regular day hours.”

The researchers suggest that because women are more likely to be responsible for childcare and household work, they may have more difficulties adjusting to shift work and maintaining regular sleep schedules.

The number of Canadians working non-standard hours has increased dramatically in recent decades.  The number of women in rotating and night shift work increased by 95 per cent during the study period, primarily in the health care sector.  For men, the increase was 50 per cent, mostly in manufacturing and trades.

In 2006, 307,000 work-related injury claims associated with shift work represented more than $50.5 million in costs to Canada’s workers’ compensation system.

“As more and more workers become involved in non-daytime shift work, we may see an increase in injuries, especially among women,” says co-author Chris McLeod, a research associate at UBC’s Centre for Health Services and Policy Research (CHSPR). “Regulatory agencies and employers need to consider policies and programs to help reduce the risk of injuries among shift workers.”

The study was funded by the WorkSafeBC-CHSPR Research Partnership. WorkSafeBC is British Columbia’s workers’ compensation board. The third co-author of the study is Paul Demers, director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre in Toronto and clinical faculty member at the UBC School of Population and Public Health.

The abstract for the study is available at http://www.sjweh.fi/show_abstract.php?abstract_id=3124

The UBC Centre for Health Services and Policy Research conducts independent, policy relevant research and graduate training, and is dedicated to fostering visionary research within a collaborative and innovative research environment. The Centre’s work engages and informs health policy and issues that matter to Canadians.

The WorkSafeBC-CHSPR Research Partnership aims to address current and emerging issues of work-related health in British Columbia. The Partnership conducts research that provides a unique and comprehensive portrait of the health and well being of workers, and helps support evidence-informed decision-making in the area of occupational health.

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