Shiftwork May Lead to Health Problems among Police Officers: What Can be Done? Using Buffalo Cardio-Metabolic Occupational Police Stress (BCOPS) Study Data to Examine First Responder HealthPosted on by
Ensuring the safety of our community is a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year kind of job. Weekends and holidays included. Working at night (outside the normal daylight hours of 7am – 6pm) is known as “shiftwork” and it has been linked to certain health issues.
Police officers and detectives frequently work 1st, 2nd, and 3rd shift, and it is common that these shifts rotate. The Buffalo Cardio-Metabolic Occupational Police Stress (BCOPS) study has been used to look at the relationships between shiftwork and several health conditions among police officers. The BCOPS study began in 2004 as a collaboration between NIOSH and the University at Buffalo with tremendous support from the Buffalo, New York Police Department.
This blog highlights BCOPS research findings from multiple studies over the past decade to share what has been learned, what these findings mean to officers and detectives, and what managers and officers can do to reduce the harmful effects of shiftwork.
Shiftwork is required in many occupations, but it is especially common among those who work in protective services. Shiftwork includes working nights, or rotating day, evening, or night shifts.
Shiftwork has been linked to several physical and mental health problems, including
- Heart disease
- Reduced immune functions
- Sleep issues (sleeping less and not getting quality sleep)
Understanding how shiftwork is associated with health problems is key to determining how to eliminate or reduce the negative effects. See this previous blog to learn how night work affects our bodies.
Health Concerns Related to Shiftwork among Police Officers
Workers in other occupations who work nights or have rotating day, night, or evening shifts have reported several health concerns. Researchers assessed many of these same health concerns among police officers using BCOPS data.
Here are some key findings from the BCOPS study:
- Shiftwork may lead to poor sleep quality among officers.
Getting a good night’s sleep is particularly important for police officers, who work and drive long hours under high-risk and uncontrolled environments and often need to make on-the-spot decisions in complex situations. Researchers found poor sleep quality was 70% higher among officers working the night shift and 49% higher among those working the afternoon shift compared with officers on day shift. Learn more about these findings.
- Shiftwork may increase job-related injuries and absences among officers.
Researchers found officers who worked night shifts had two times the rate of long-term injury leave (≥90 days leave) than those who worked the afternoon and three times the rate of leave than those who worked day shifts. Learn more about these findings.
- Shiftwork may increase stress and depression among officers.
Researchers found work-related stress was more prevalent among police officers working the afternoon or night shift than the day shift. Officers working these two shifts reported more stressful events compared with those who worked the day shift. Learn more about these findings.
Officers who worked evening/night shift were about four times more likely to report depressive symptoms than those working the day shift. Officers reporting higher stress also tended to have higher levels of depressive symptoms. Learn more about these findings.
- Shiftwork may affect officers’ immune system.
Researchers found officers working long-term night shifts had greater numbers of white blood cells compared to day-shift police officers, which indicates that shiftwork may have a negative effect on the immune system. Learn more about these findings.
- Shiftwork is associated with biological changes that may indicate increased risk for heart disease among officers.
Among the BCOPS police officers, researchers examined changes in biological signals of cardiovascular disease (CVD), while also considering body mass index. Researchers found that officers working night shifts had higher levels of signs of inflammation compared to day shift police officers. Increased levels of inflammation may lead to increased risk for CVD. Learn more about these findings.
Researchers also found officers on night and afternoon shifts were more likely to be absent from work due to sickness; this was particularly evident among overweight officers. This is consistent with what other studies have found. Both obesity and shiftwork are risk factors for adverse health outcomes. Their combined effects may lead to greater risk of absence due to sickness. Learn more about these findings.
What Managers Can Do to Lessen the Effects of Shiftwork
Reduce double shifts, where possible, to prevent fatigue. Fatigue is likely to impact performance, increasing the risk for accidents and injuries.
- Provide training and information on shiftwork so your workers are aware of the potential effects on their health and work performance. NIOSH offers a 30-minute online training for emergency responders on reducing risks associated with long work hours.
- Make sure your workers have access to appropriate health care and counseling services to support their health and well-being. The U.S. Department of Justice has law enforcement mental health and wellness program resources.
- Develop and promote the use of a workplace health promotion program. These programs can reduce chronic disease risk, lower health care costs and absenteeism, and increase employee productivity.
What Police Officers Can Do to Lessen the Effects of Shiftwork
- Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet to reduce your stress levels and improve your quality of sleep.
- Protect your sleep – keep a regular sleep routine, avoid heavy foods and alcohol before sleep, block out noise and lights when trying to sleep. Please see the NIOSH Plain Language About Shiftwork publication for additional information.
- Discuss concerns about the effects of shiftwork on your health with a health professional. Follow medical advice to ensure you are staying healthy.
Important Questions for Future Research
We would like to hear from police officers, administrators, unions, law enforcement planners, other emergency responders, and researchers interested in the impact of shiftwork and other exposures that affect the health of first responders. Your feedback will help us in future studies and will help us develop better ways to reduce job-related injuries and disease. Please provide comments below.
1. What other stressors have surfaced during the COVID-19 pandemic among police officers?
2. Are there other ways your department is addressing shiftwork that would
- decrease work-related stress?
- improve heart health?
3. How could we better share information with police officers (e.g., Twitter, Facebook/Meta, webinars, workshops, newsletters, some other way)?
To learn more about the BCOPS study, check out the recent webinar hosted by the NIOSH Cancer, Reproductive, Cardiovascular, and Other Chronic Disease Prevention Program (CRC). The webinar discusses sleep and fatigue, the impact of shiftwork, CVD risk factors, and stress and well-being among police officers. You can also check out the previous BCOPS-related NIOSH Science blogs: Police and Stress and Stress and Health in Law Enforcement.
Taylor M. Shockey, PhD, MPH, is a senior service fellow in the Health Informatics Branch in the Division of Field Studies and Engineering at NIOSH.
Luenda E. Charles, PhD, MPH, is an epidemiologist in the Bioanalytics Branch in the Health Effects Laboratory Division at NIOSH.
Michael E. Andrew, PhD, is the Branch Chief of the Bioanalytics Branch in the Health Effects Laboratory Division at NIOSH.
John M. Violanti, PhD, is the Principal Investigator and a Research Professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, School of Public Health and Health Professions at the University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY.
Amy E. Mobley, MEn, is a health communications specialist in the Health Informatics Branch in the Division of Field Studies and Engineering at NIOSH.
This study was funded by grant [R01OH011717] from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This blog is part of a series highlighting extramural research funded by NIOSH through the Office of Extramural Programs. For more information on NIOSH extramural research and training click here.