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The effects of shift work

You are on a night shift and you are starting to feel cold, almost starting to shiver. Your concentration could be measured in nano seconds, you’re frustrated because you just seem to be taking forever to do simple things and you cannot remember what you needed to do next. Someone asked if you wanted a coffee but as you turn around to accept, the ward nurse is standing next to you, holding a cup and chuckling because in the time it has taken you to reply, she’s already poured you one!

Be reassured, you are not alone. Most shift workers will notice reductions in concentration and co-ordination when on nights, slower thinking, difficulty organising thoughts and recalling facts. This is all part of the effect of circadian rhythm upon our physical and cognitive abilities.

Human Factors accepts that our performance is markedly different from day to night but sometimes it is essential that work continues during the night. We need to accept this. But we also need to understand the effects of shift work so that we can appreciate the risks to both our patients and our own health. Human Factors helps us to understand these, identify our low points and develop strategies to address them. There are also tools available to assist organisations when developing shift patterns.

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