The effects of shift work: update

Project No. IAG 490016


completed 12/2012


Approximately 15 % of workers in Germany are affected by shift work. Shift work has an impact upon many areas of life. These include health, biorhythm, and performance, and equally family life, sleep, and of course the risk of accidents. The objective of the project is to summarize the results of studies completed to date, in order to identify outstanding issues for further research and scope for prevention. In addition, a database of exposure for shift systems is to be created, together with a software application for the recording of shift systems.


A literature survey is conducted with a focus upon the current literature (since 2000), since numerous studies from the period before that time have already been compiled in a BGAG Report. Finally, research issues are identified.


The topic of shift work is increasingly coming under the spotlight of the prevention activity conducted by the German social accident insurance institutions. One reason for this is doubtlessly the increase in shift work, which in turn is a product of uninterrupted production processes and the growing demand for round-the-clock service in the service sector. In addition, more and more scientific studies are revealing the potential negative consequences of shift work. This report describes the principal statutory conditions governing shift work, and its characteristics and frequency. Scientific findings concerning the medical and social effects of shift work and their impact upon occupational accidents are described with reference to literature analyses. Recommendations are also made for the management of shift work. Gaps in research and the consequences for prevention work are discussed. The statutory provisions require the working hours of night and shift workers to be laid down in accordance with validated scientific findings concerning the humane design of work. This means that the quality of the statutory arrangements is dependent upon the quality of labour science and its findings. Shift work undeniably has an impact upon physiological processes, such as sleep. The results of studies are however not always unambiguous regarding the impacts upon obesity, gastrointestinal diseases, cardiovascular diseases or cancer. Shift work also has clear consequences for workers’ social and private lives. The duration, timing and distribution of shift work can be regarded with sufficient reliability as having an impact upon the accident risk.

Last Update:

10 Feb 2014


Financed by:
  • Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung e.V. (DGUV)
Research institution(s):
  • Institut für Arbeit und Gesundheit der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung (IAG)
  • Institut für Arbeitsschutz der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung (IFA)
  • Institut für Prävention und Arbeitsmedizin der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung - Institut der Ruhr-Universität Bochum (IPA)

-cross sectoral-

Type of hazard:

work-related health hazards, work-related diseases, mental stress factors


working time, health impairments and disorders, accident prevention

Description, key words:

shift work, biorhythm, performance, health, social factors


Further information

DGUV Report 1/2012 (PDF, 3,8 MB): Schichtarbeit - Rechtslage, gesundheitliche Risiken und Präventionsmöglichkeiten