Rising number of Scots working night shifts '˜need to know the risks'

The rising number of Scots working night shifts should be aware of the potential long term impact on on their health, union officials have warned.

The growing number of warehouses and factories operating 24-hours a day has led to a rise in the number of night shift workers. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA
The growing number of warehouses and factories operating 24-hours a day has led to a rise in the number of night shift workers. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA

The growing demand for 24-hour shopping, and in turn the vast array of warehouses and logistics required to support such a service, is one reason for the increase across the UK.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) found the number of people regularly working night shifts has risen by more than 250,000 across the country in the last five years.

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Regular shift work has been linked to higher rates of type two diabetes, heart attacks and cancer. The University of Surrey’s sleep research centre found that disrupting the body’s natural rhythm of being active during the day could alter everything from hormones and body temperature to athletic ability.

While the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) does not yet have exact figures for those working nights north of the Border, its Better Than Zero campaign has recognised the upward trend by offering advice to staff on health and safety issues.

As well as those employed in the warehouse and retail sectors, the STUC campaign is engaging with those working in the late night hospitality and entertainment industry.

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There are some jobs that will always require night working, with hospitals and emergency services often at their busiest in the evening. Many staff value the flexibility of night work, as well as the premiums that late shifts can pay.

One long-serving NHS mental health nurse, who routinely works nights, told The Scotsman there were “definite positives” to such shifts, while acknowledging that there were also downsides.

“There is quite a big increase in wages,” the nurse, who asked not to be named, said. “You also tend to work with same team for all your set of nights. Your breaks can be disrupted less, which you often miss altogether when working during the day.”

They did admit that one major negative of night work was “the death of your social life”.

The STUC stressed that the dangers of night time working did not stop at the workplace door. As part of its Safe Home initiative, Better than Zero is calling on employers to provide travel allowances after late shifts, when prohibitive taxi prices mean many workers often face a long walk home.

Claire Galloway, an organiser for the group, said: “Young workers in particular often face the choice between an unsafe walk home or spending as much as two hours’ wages on a taxi. But employers want to take no responsibility for the wellbeing of workers the moment they leave the workplace.

“In bars and restaurants, workers have been calling for better protections for night-time workers. Most recently, in Cineworld in Glasgow workers have been campaigning to restore the taxi allowance that has recently been cut.”

Helen Martin, assistant general secretary of the STUC, said: “Along with shops and warehouses, a huge fraction of the night-time economy is in bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.”

Scottish Labour’s economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “It is often necessary or desirable for people to work nightshifts – and it is essential that people have a degree of autonomy over the working pattern that suits them.

“But such a sharp rise in this kind of work is concerning. Being forced to regularly work nightshifts is proven to have a negative effect on people’s health and wellbeing. Leaving work after a night shift can also lead to safety concerns, particularly for women and younger workers.”