Last reviewed 11 June 2020

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, key workers, including those working in the healthcare, utility and transport sectors, are not only the most exposed to Covid-19 but they are also 25–30% more likely to suffer from health-related illness or sustain an injury if they work night shifts.

The findings, from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), are important at a time when shift work is becoming increasingly common due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The study examined five aspects of wellbeing including chronic fatigue, emotional reactivity, social isolation, stress and overall health.

Night shift workers were approximately 25–30% more likely to suffer from health-related illness or sustain an injury. In addition, working a 12-hour rather than an 8-hour shift increased the risk of injury, again by 25–30%, with risk increasing evenly over four consecutive shifts.

They also found that shift workers reported higher levels of chronic fatigue, linked to the disturbance of biological rhythms that occur due to shift work.

Over many years, the disruption of biological and social factors associated with night shift work may have negative long-term effects.

In addition, in the short term, disturbing the body clock and sleep patterns, along with unsettling family and social time, can result in acute effects on mood and performance, which may lead to long-term effects on mental health, impacting workers’ health and safety.

Based on this study, and on existing best practice, IOSH recommends a mixture of common-sense changes by individuals to their lifestyles and practical measures by employers to the working environment.

These changes include:

  • allowing adequate time between shifts for sleep and meal preparation

  • providing at least 48 hours between shift changes

  • providing regular (annual) health checks for shift workers

  • being mindful of the need to transfer staff to day work if required.