Dying for the job: police work exposure and health. Violanti JM, ed. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher, Ltd., 2014 Feb; :73-92
Shift work is complex and encompasses a wide variety of work schedules and circumstances. "Shift work involves working outside the normal daylight hours. That is, outside the hours of around 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., the time period in which many people in our society work a 7- to 8-hour shift. Shift workers might work in the evening, in the middle of the night, overtime or extra-long workdays. They also might work regular days at one time or another. Many shift workers "rotate" around the clock, which involves changing work times from day to evening, or day to night. This might happen at different times of the week or at different times of the month" (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH], 1997, p. 1-2). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent reports about shift work in the United States are based on data from a supplement to the May 2004 Current Population Survey, a monthly household survey of national employment and unemployment. Nearly 15% of full-time workers usually worked an alternative shift (6.7% on evening shifts, 3.2% on night shifts, 3.1% on employer-arranged irregular schedules, and 2.5% on rotating shifts), a decrease from 18% in May 1991. A greater percentage of men worked an alternative shift than did women (16.7 vs. 12.4%). Blacks worked alternative shifts more often than whites, Hispanics or Latinos, or Asians. Shift work was most common among workers in service occupations: 50.6% worked in protective service (police, firefighters, and guards), 40.4% in food preparation and serving, and 26.2% in production, transportation, and material moving (Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS], 2005; McMenamin, 2007). Note that the above statistics are based on current work which may underestimate the number of individuals who have ever worked alternative shifts. It could also be worthwhile to consider past work because the effects of shift work may be cumulative over time. Police work necessarily entails shift work to help ensure public safety. "Police officers have reported that shift work and overtime are among the most difficult requirements of their job" (Violanti et al., 2009, p. 194). In this high-demand, high-stress occupation, shift work is a major contributor of stress and can present challenges in several ways--as the source of problems, hastening potential problems, or complicating existing ones. Reasons for working an alternative shift among U.S. workers included "nature of the job" (54.6%), "personal preference" (11.5%), "better arrangements for family or child care" (8.2%), "could not get any other job" (8.1%), and "better pay" (6.8%). Personal preference was given as the reason many chose to work night and evening shifts (21.0 and 15.9%, respectively) or that working these shifts assisted with family or child care needs (15.9 and 11.0%, respectively). The "nature of the job" was the most common reason for working rotating, split, and employer-arranged irregular schedules (BLS, 2005; McMenamin, 2007). Shift work is a recognized physical and psychological challenge to worker health and performance and is a far-reaching exposure in occupational health. Rearrangement of sleep and work time can not only have a vast impact upon police officers, but also upon their families and the people that they seek to protect and serve. A number of health concerns are associated with shift work and police officers represent a large share of the affected working population. Results from a study of Buffalo, New York police officers and studies of other law enforcement officers will be used to summarize health hazards associated with shift work.