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Shift work: An occupational health and safety hazard

Buxton, Sandra (2003) Shift work: An occupational health and safety hazard. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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Shift work is a major feature of modern work practices. It involves individuals working at times considered unconventional for most workers, such as at night. Although the community often benefits from such work practices, shift work can be hazardous, for both the workers and the community.

The thesis reviews the main problems of shift work, especially when involving night work. These are: an increased risk for accidents and errors; increased sleepiness and fatigue due to difficulties sleeping; increased health problems; and disruption to family and social life. Strategies to limit the risk associated with these hazards are also reviewed, and include using knowledge of circadian principles to plan shift schedules, sleeping schedules and meal times; planned napping; consideration of the work environment; and newer techniques such as using bright lights and melatonin.

While this information is known to the research community, it has not filtered down to many shift work workplaces and thus has had little if any positive effect on actual shift work practices. For a change in shift work practices to occur, the research knowledge must become available to every shift work workplace, as must some incentive or motivation to ensure that workplaces make the necessary changes.

The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws provide such a framework. Considering shift work as an OHS hazard would ensure that all shift work workplaces identified the hazards of shift work, conducted a risk assessment to identify the risk associated with the hazards, and then implemented the appropriate strategies, from the hierarchy of shift work hazard control measures, for both employers and employees, to fulfil their duty of care to minimise the risks. Considering shift work as an OHS issue would ensure that the research information was used as intended - to improve the safety, performance, and quality of life of all shift workers. The present thesis reviews the shift work research and introduces an OHS perspective as a method to manage shift work effectively.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Psychology
Supervisor(s): Hartley, Laurence
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