Warning message

Please note that this page is from our archives. There may be more up-to-date content about this topic on our website. Use our search engine to find out.

Women especially vulnerable

Working the night shift puts workers at a higher risk for injury according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia. Health care aide Krista Dolan discovered that the hard way.

Dolan, 53, who’s a member of the Hospital Employees’ Union in BC, had her hand violently twisted by a patient trying to get her attention during a night shift last June. She hasn’t been able to return to work since. “My hand is still swollen and painful” Dolan recently told the Vancouver Sun.

Incidents like these are far too common” said Troy Winters, Senior Officer of Health and Safety at CUPE’s national office in Ottawa. “This new study really highlights how dangerous shiftwork can be.”

Published on the website of the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health in October , the study notes that though the rate of compensated work injuries in Canada decreased overall between 1996 and 2006, rates of compensated injuries on night shifts did not decline.

The study also noted that during both night shifts and rotating shifts women had a higher rate of work injury than their male counterparts.

Nearly two-thirds of CUPE’s membership is made up of women, and a lot of them are working shifts in hospitals, nursing homes and other twenty-four hour facilities” said Winters. “These findings are quite troubling for a large segment of our union, but the study draws some important conclusions that CUPE strongly supports.”

Lead author of the research study and Ph.D. candidate Imelda Wong concluded that “additional occupational health and safety policies and programs are needed to reduce risk of work injury among night and rotating shift workers, especially among women.” 

There were approximately 2.7 million lost-time injury compensation claims awarded in 2006 according to the study. Of those, approximately 107,000 claims from men and 200,000 from women can be attributed to shift work—costing over $50 million dollars in lost-time claims.

CUPE has produced a fact sheet on shiftwork that explains how working abnormal shifts disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms and leads to a variety of adverse health effects for workers, including:

  • Disruption in quality and quantity of sleep resulting in chronic fatigue
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Increased risk of cardio-vascular disease
  • Increased of gastro-intestinal disorders
  • Shorter life expectancy compared to regular dayworkers
  • Social isolation due to shiftwork hours, especially for nightworkers
  • Increased risk of breast cancer in women who work night shifts
  • Menstrual disorders and reproductive system dysfunction for women

For more information on shiftwork check out the following: