Workers who get less than 11 hours of rest between shifts may be more likely to take sick leave, a Norwegian study suggests.
“Quick returns,” defined as breaks shorter than 11 hours between the end of one shift and the beginning of another, were tied to a 21-per-cent increase in the odds of nurses taking sick leave the following month.
“Recent studies suggest these rapid changeovers can be associated with equal or even worse effects on sleep and fatigue than night work,” lead study author Oystein Vedaa of the University of Bergen said.
“Our study also suggests short time for rest between shifts predicts sick leave and night shifts do not,” Vedaa told Reuters Health by e-mail. “The importance of rest time between shifts has received little attention in previous research.”
Vedaa and colleagues looked at shift work and sick leave data for 3,700 nurses and nurses’ assistants at Haukeland University Hospital, one of four public hospitals in western Norway. They asked nurses who worked more than 18 hours a week to participate in a survey, and 1,538 answered questions about themselves as well as their work schedules and sick leave.
More than 80 per cent of nurses had quick returns during the year and, on average, each had three quick returns amonth. More than 70 per cent had at least one sick day during the year, averaging one sick-leave day a month. Quick returns increased the risk for sick leave during the following month. In addition, prior sick leave increased the risk for future sick leave. Other variables, including sex, age, marital status, children living at home and number of hours worked were not associated with more sick leave. In fact, experience with shift work, measured in years, was associated with a reduced risk for sick-leave spells. Researchers also found no link between increased sick leave and personality characteristics associated with high tolerance for shift work, such as high flexibility, low drowsiness after sleep loss and low preference for the morning.
The European Working Time Directive says workers are entitled to a minimum 11 hours of daily rest during a 24-hour period. Some health-care workers in some European countries, however, are exempt from these guidelines. Since quick returns are usually not necessary to maintain staffing, they should be eliminated in shift schedules, the study authors write in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Although the study focuses on nurses, the findings could help shift-work planning for doctors and medical students as well, said Tom Smith of the University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center, who wasn’t involved with the study. Smith and colleagues have researched U.S. workers’ beliefs about and experiences with sick leave in the workplace.
“We know the serious implications of this,” Smith told Reuters Health. “When people are overworked and overburdened, there are more accidents and more mistakes.”
The study focuses on health-care workers, Smith said, though he would like to see future studies about pilots, bus drivers and other positions that may face short-break issues.
The clinical implications of short breaks between shifts and sick leave are important as well, he said.
“If nurses are more likely to become sick, then are they forgetting to give medicine or failing to check up on patients?” he said.Report Typo/Error