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A night in the day of a FIFO night shift – Is it so different to day shift?

Night shift… Is it just day shift at night? Is it so much different?

I have had many night shift workers argue this point with me for many years and for good reason; they get paid more!! This tends to be the motivation for entering into, and not wanting to leave a night shift position.

In my blog on fatigue (…is it the cracked step in the work place ladder) I mentioned that one of the main causes of fatigue in our industry is shift work; particularly night shift.

I’ve worked most forms of night work through my career. 7pm-7am shifts that were evenly matched with day shifts to make up a 28 roster while in the UK. After hours on call that required 7 – 14 days of ad hoc night work. Various fill-ins and all nighters when required while work was busy…even working 4 nights / week as a head doorman in a Canadian Nightclub for 12 months.

But I have never worked on a constant night shift roster on a large project; let alone on a mega project while away from home. So is it much different to working days? Does it lead to increased fatigue? Let’s find out.

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Night shift requires workers to operate against their circadian rhythm. Before you ask, as I did; your circadian rhythm is your body clock that determines sleepiness and wakefulness over a 24 hour period.

Apparently, this body clock has evolved to be controlled by the same area of the brain that responds to daylight. This is why humans (most humans) are most alert during the day.

Disruptions to this rhythm are what contribute to fatigue and the more regular these disruptions, the higher the levels of fatigue can be. This can in turn lead to something called Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD).

Basically, SWSD is caused by constant disruptions to this circadian rhythm and is characterized by insomnia and excessive sleepiness. SWSD mostly affects people whose work hours overlap with the typical sleep period.keep-calm-i-work-the-nightshift

The effects of SWSD cannot be taken lightly. Many studies have shown side effects of prolonged exposure to SWSD can be increased heart disease, digestive disorders, clinical depression and….the big C (eeks).

Ok… so enough about sleep disorders; we’ve all been tired and felt the effects. Had a few big nights in a row and found it hard to adjust. Been on call for a week or two and had a day or two off work to recover. Or maybe have even worked night shift at some stage and had to cope with the rigours of disrupted / unusual sleep patterns.

But what does night shift look like on a resources project while working away? Is it different to night shift on a large project working close to home? Is it different to night shift in another profession working close to home? Also, what are these abnormal sleep patterns? Do they actually make a difference?

Writing a thesis on the comparisons will do no one any favours; particularly given I struggle with 1500 words. But what I can do is compare a day in my life working on a mega project away from home to a day in the life of a night shift equivalent.

A colleague of mine has kindly agreed to share his experiences. At a high level, we have many things in common. We are similar ages, comparative job scopes / responsibilities, similar attitude to work / the project and share a similar love for life and family.

As well as a high level run down of his day, I have also asked for his insights into night shift; thoughts, feelings and anything else to help understand the life of a night shift worker. My insights, thoughts and feelings can be read in most of the previous blogs…so you will have to go looking!! So, below is a comparison of our working “day”.

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…times by 25 groundhog days and that’s my roster.

Insights from this night shift worker:

Dayshift is a hive of madness with everyone trying to get their own tasks for the day over the line and seems to be no real cohesion to a department.  Nightshift is a lot more team orientated as there is a lot less madness, with each department more willing to assist each other. The leaders on nights foster this and it works very well.

You can get a lot more done on night shift both individually and as a team due to the lack of competition for resources, materials, radios etc. The permit situation however is more complex as there are less of the client operatives and other resources required to get the work done.0b928b18e3721358bf903dd7b1e57c184fc8e6db65d149c54f713a1dc11db0d0

My transition from days to nights was more about getting used to the sleep patterns than the work. I get a lot more tired on night shift than on days and haven’t been able to fully adjust to the change. It is the same for returning from R&R. It does take some management and adjustment to settle into the night shift pattern.

For those who have joined the brotherhood of FIFO or have done so in the past they will tell you that you earn every cent of your pay while away.  Missing the good things in life and the sacrifices we make are not worth it at times. When family are sick or even pass those hours and days of helplessness are awful. Working nights definitely magnifies the effects this, it’s one more factor to adjust to. We all hope that one day we can pay off our house or retire, whatever the goal it will be well earned. 

These are only my experiences and others will have a different slant on how things work but at the moment it works for me and my family.

In contrast to the above, I was chatting to another night shift employee in a similar position who wants to be changed to days. I was actually quite surprised…so quizzed him on this and he told me…

“I’d love to do days. My missus would be stoked if I went back on days. The extra money is great but the lifestyle is horrible”.

“With the time difference, I can’t call the kids from camp and have a relaxed chat. I don’t get to talk to the wife for very long and when I go home it takes me a few days to adjust which frustrates everyone”.

“It’s hard on nights. No support, resources and coordination as well. Days seem a lot better run”.

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So did we answer the question; is night shift just day shift at night? Is there any difference? Well I think that’s only something you, the reader can tell me. Everyone will have their own differing opinion on this, particularly the night shift workers.

Whether they are called night walkers, zombies, graveyard dogs or just night shifters…they are still workers with all of the same challenges as their counterparts on day shift; they just seem to be a little bit more tired. I hope this blog gives you just that bit more insight into night shift and the extra factors that make it that little bit more challenging.

You might do shift work, day work, highly physical work, technical work; even part time work. You could work from home, near home, away from home or a combination of these. The take away is that no matter what your working situation, actively managing any kind of fatigue is important.

Until the next instalment; keep calm, work nights and stay connected!!

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