In today’s modern day of 24 hours worksites, the likelihood of you or someone you know being a shift worker is higher than ever. About 16% of Australians are shift workers of some varying description. With the advent of Drive-In-Drive-Out (DIDO), Bus-In-Bus-Out (BIBO), and Fly-In-Fly-Out (FIFO) not only are people working different shifts but are doing so away from their families for large chunks of time. You then have our service men and women in the ADF who can be deployed for 3, 6, 9 or 12 months at a time, away from everyone, in harsh and dangerous conditions.
There is a lot of debate circling around shift work and the negative impacts it can have on a person both physically and mentally. The basic theory runs around your circadian rhythm, the body’s normal wake-sleep cycle that repairs and refreshes your body. There is research to support both a short cycle of two to three days of nights before reverting to days, and having longer cycles of three to four weeks. There is also conversations around shift length debating the efficacy of both the the eight and twelve hour shift. The summation of most of the above is short swing shifts, from Morning to Afternoon to Night to Days off, not more than three days each was more beneficial to the employee in terms of their health, and the workplace in terms of alertness and efficiency. There is also a massive personal element that needs to be considered: children, home life, personal habits, and hobbies all impact which schedule works for you.
Some people only see the benefits of FIFO work, and I mean DIDO and BIBO too, whereby the workers are at home and off for a week at a time. What they don’t see is the day lost after work to travel, the day lost before work to travel, the 12 hours shifts while they are away, all of the missed time with family and friends. My Brother is a DIDO shift worker who is on an even time roster with a 5/7 rotation. He has a three hour drive to get work and to get home, he works a 12 hour shift, and then when he is done he escapes to the “donga” accommodation that is still on site. I know he often feels rushed on his days off to achieve things as he only has three days out of twelve to actually do anything. The long term effects of such absences are similar to that of Military service. This can create separation anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. 7% of FIFO workers seperate from their partners, as opposed to 5% for those who are home every evening. Thats a 40% increase on their “in town” counterparts. This separation can be a result of the worker themselves feeling isolated and removed from their partners, and also the partners not having their working other halves at home for most of the fortnight, then comes home to change routines, make a mess, be absent with friends or their own interests. All of this stress is increased with the inclusion of children, young or older.
As you may or may not be aware I am a shift working Nurse. This means in a 14 day fortnight I can, and will, work a mix of Early (0700 – 1530), Late (1500 – 2330), and Night (2300 – 0730). Generally I will work two nights, and a mix of the others. I will some times be required to work a late shift one day, and then come back for an early shift the following day, giving an 8 hours break between shifts but being a rather quick turn around regardless. Shift working is hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either single with no children, or lying. I often have to make the decision between sleep and spending time with the family, missing social events due to shifts or sleep, and having a broken sleep cycle that often leaves me staring at the roof for hours at a time trying to get some shut eye. It’s difficult at times to manage, even as I write this I am between two night shifts, soon I will make dinner, sleep for a couple of hours, go to work, then stay up all of tomorrow to get back into my sleep routing. I call tomorrow my “Zombie” day as I may not be operating at 100% but need to stay up in order to sleep that evening.
Undoubtedly though those who have it the worst are our men and women serving in the ADF. Long term readers know that I served in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and though I didn’t deploy overseas I still had six months separated from my family whilst on submarines, 3 back to back 6 week stints at sea on patrol boats, and an exceptionally demanding job as the Fleet Support Officer (FSO) in Western Australia. These times were tough. On patrol boats I was working two 4 hours watches on the bridge per day, plus the ancillary duties I had onboard. On Submarines the days were broken into four 6 hours watches which everyone take two off, as the FSO 12-17 hour days were not unheard of, working 6-7 days a week, and being constantly on call. Even though all of these different circumstances are considered difficult, it is nothing compared to the conditions of those who are deployed overseas to areas of conflict. These members are separated from their families by locality, have long hours to contend with, and are under constant threat from outside antagonists.
Fatigue is one obvious detrimental effect cause by shift work, but there are a several others that may not be as obvious;
- Increased likelihood of obesity
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Higher risk of mood changes
- Increased risk of gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation and stomach discomfort
- Higher risk of motor vehicle accidents and work-related accidents
- Increased likelihood of family problems, including divorce
- Probable increased risk of cancer, especially breast cancer.
- Increased risk of injuries and accidents
- Decreased quality of life
- General feeling of being unwell
- Sleep deprivation caused by shiftwork may increase the risk of epilepsy in pre-disposed people.
- Shiftworkers with diabetes can experience difficulties in controlling their blood sugar levels.
The most obvious solution to the above issues it to ensure you get adequate sleep, maintain a healthy and balanced diet, and get plenty of exercise. However, if you have any above the symptoms or feel uncertain about anything go and see your GP and get checked out.
I will be a shift worker for the remainder of my career, because patients still need care over night, and that’s ok. I have an exceptionally understanding wife who appreciates my need for sleep, I try to maximise the time spent with family, I am trying to get in the habit of requesting weekends off every now and again so I can spend time with the entire family, I try and eat right, and stay hydrated. My only piece of advice I have for you ragers is stay safe, be sensible, and seek help if something is awry.
Maintain The Rage