In the News
Four nights a week, Grant is able to eat dinner with his family, and after dinner, as they are settling in for a relaxing evening, he heads off to his job as a driver. Sometimes it’s hard to be starting his “work day” when everyone at home is slowing down for the evening. Working overnight means Grant needs to sleep during daylight hours, often while his family is home, making it hard to get enough quality sleep. New Nobel Prize-winning research is bringing renewed attention to the importance of sleep and shows that irregular sleep routines and ongoing sleep deprivation can mean more than just being tired at work; it can also lead to serious illness.
For those who work shifts outside of the traditional 9-5 workday or travel across time zones, this often means working outside of natural daylight hours. This can result in irregular sleep routines and eventually an overall lack of sleep. Our internal circadian rhythms, as well as our body’s biological sleep regulator, drive the need for sleep. Our genes as well as external cues influence both of these cycles.
Circadian rhythms are our body’s natural clocks that manage various internal functions throughout a 24-hour day. Working during the night and sleeping during the day is contrary to our natural rhythm. This is what makes sleeping difficult for shift workers and can mean that the body cannot recover as quickly from physical and mental activity during these “opposite” hours.
Exposure to light can impact our circadian rhythms and light has a powerful influence on our behaviour and well-being. Promoters of sleep hygiene (practices and habits that help improve quality of sleep) point out that bright lights and viewing electronics before bed and spending the whole day in a dimly lit office can affect the natural circadian cycle. This can cause people to feel tired in the morning and wide awake at night. Artificial light, shift work, and early college class schedules conflict with our body’s natural rhythm. Getting bright sunlight in the day and having a dark, quiet space to sleep can help keep your circadian rhythms.
This fall, the 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to a group of American scientists for their discovery of how our circadian rhythms are controlled and bringing a new awareness of the importance of getting a proper sleep. Co-prize winner Michael Robash welcomes this new awareness. “It’s been overlooked for a long time as a real public health problem,” he said. “All of western society is a little bit sleep deprived and, when I say a little bit, I mean chronically.”
At first, it was assumed that the brain’s master clock was the body’s only internal timekeeper. However, in the past decade scientists have shown that almost every cell in our body has an internal clock that anticipates our daily needs. Virtually every function in our body from the secretion of hormones to changes in blood pressure are influenced in major ways by knowing what time of day these things will be needed.
A common mistake is to think that we do not have to follow the rules of biology, and that we can just eat, drink, sleep, play, or work whenever we want. This explains why jet lag feels so unpleasant. When you take a flight and the time of day suddenly artificially changes, some of your organs catch up faster than others. During this adjustment period, different parts of your body are adapting at different speeds, and make you feel sick. Shift workers deal with these changes over long periods. Working irregular hours, they face a number of health risks and are more likely to suffer from heart disease, dementia, diabetes and some cancers, because “they are having to override their entire biology," says Professor Russell Foster of the University of Oxford.
With this new information and awareness it’s a good time to look at the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Suggestions for getting good sleep
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat at regular intervals and consume a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and protein.
- Use your bed primarily just for sleeping (for example, avoid watching television, reading and doing work in bed).
- If you are not sleepy, do not try to go to bed. Get up and read or do something quiet instead.
- Avoid caffeine, tobacco or alcohol especially before bed time.
- Turn off electronics in the evening.
- Keep your bedroom cool, quiet and dark. Use heavy, dark curtains, blinds, or a sleeping eye mask. Soundproof the room where possible or use ear plugs.
- Try not to take sleep medication.
Tips & Tools
You’ve just put in a long day of work to meet an important deadline and you’ve finally finished. Your initial feeling of satisfaction turns to unease when you realize that you’re the last person in the office and it's dark outside. If you’ve ever had to work late you know that this feeling can be unsettling, especially when you’re working on your own.
Here are some good practices for employers to establish, and for employees to follow, to help stay safe when working late:
- Always let a co-worker, friend, family member or security guard know you are working late and when you expect to leave.
- Have a check-in procedure such as phoning a co-worker or family member.
- Use the "buddy system". Arrange to work late on the same night as a co-worker.
- Plan ahead and think about which areas are safe where you can retreat to and/or call for help.
- Before it gets dark outside, move your car to a well-lit area that is close to your building or a parking lot attendant.
- Before your co-workers leave, check that all the doors and windows are locked and make sure nobody is in the washrooms and storage rooms.
- If you enter a room and suspect that someone might be inside, do not call out. Back out quietly and go to a safe area with a lockable door. Call for help.
- If you encounter someone you don't know, indicate that you are not alone. Say "my supervisor will be right here and will be able to help you".
- If you suspect someone is lurking outside, call the police or security officers.
- Employers may consider providing safe transportation to your home or safe “walking partners” to parking areas after hours, and/or designating parking spots that are close to the building and well-lit for those who work after hours.
- Be aware of the services offered by your local transit company for after-hours commuters (e.g., they may have a "request stop" service that allows you to get off anywhere along the route after dark, rather than at a designated stop).
Working late or outside of business hours is not always hazardous. Different circumstances such as location and the type of work you do can make working late a high or low risk situation so it’s important to assess each situation individually and take the steps needed to ensure you are safe.
Resources from CCOHS:
For companies in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, frequently working in locations without wireless service can make it difficult to access health and safety legislation and information at the worksite.
In response to this situation, the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut has partnered with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) to create a new app that makes legislation and resources easier to access throughout the North.
Organized by topic, the WSCC OHS App – Guide to OHS Legislation aims to make employers’ and workers’ legislated responsibilities under the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Safety Act and OHS Regulations easier to understand. Each topic provides summaries, links to resources, and quotes the relevant legislation section. “This app responds to the current appetite for easy-to-access and understand legislative information,” says Gareth Jones, Acting President and CEO of CCOHS.
The app includes 20 OHS topics, is bilingual (English and French) and is bi-jurisdictional (NT and NU). WSCC is planning on-going maintenance, the development of new topics and to translate the app into Inuktitut, one of the official languages of NT and NU.
The WSCC OHS App is free to download and designed for use without the Internet. Once loaded on to your device, you can access the information anywhere, regardless of Internet connection.
Health and Safety To Go
This month’s podcasts provide safety tips for working alone and, for Radon Action Month, an encore presentation of Recognizing Radon.
Feature Podcast: Staying Safe When Working Alone
Working as a gas station attendant, conducting a home inspection, or visiting a home care patient, these situations can put workers in a potentially dangerous environment. But for many, this is a necessary part of the job. In this podcast episode, CCOHS provides tips on how to stay safe when working alone or off-site.
The podcast runs 5:24 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Recognizing Radon
Radon is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas released when uranium, found naturally in rocks and soil, decays. It is also classified as a known carcinogen and a leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. In Canada, radon can be found in new and older homes, public buildings and underground worksites. In this podcast, Dr. Cheryl Peters, Postdoctoral Fellow at Carleton University and Occupational Exposures Lead Scientist at CAREX Canada discusses radon, where it’s found, the impact it can have on our health and how we can limit our exposure to it.
The podcast runs 8:22 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
CCOHS is looking for industrious, committed students in occupational health and safety programs to apply for their 2018 Dick Martin Scholarship Award. The annual, national scholarship is open to all students enrolled in an occupational health and safety course or program at an accredited Canadian college or university, leading to an occupational health and safety certificate, diploma or degree.
Two scholarships worth $3000 each will be awarded to one winning university student and one winning college student. A $500 award will also be provided to each of the winning students’ academic institutions.
To apply for the scholarship, post-secondary students are invited to submit a 1000 -1200 word essay on one of two topics related to occupational health and safety. Essays will be judged on the intellectual content, the practical and theoretical value and the presentation and style.
For application rules, criteria, tips and other guidelines visit www.ccohs.ca/scholarship.
If you’re not a student, but know one, why not share this with them?
Applications are open until 11:59 p.m. EST, January 31, 2018 and the winners will be announced during North American Occupational Health and Safety Week in May 2018.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Length: 5:24 minutes
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