Sleepless nights and Night Shift Work

June 16, 2012

Sajan was one of those ruggedly handsome, suave and charming young man. He was someone you would call a ‘ladies man’.  His pleasing manners and charisma had won him the hearts of a lot of girls in college.  After the completion of his studies in engineering college, he joined up with a firm inTechnoPark,Trivandrumand was very pleased with himself for having won a job that paid so handsomely.  He was only 25 years old and the feeling of having become successful at such an early age had imbued a confident air in him.  Yes, he was ready to take on the world as did scores of students who graduated every year from the engineering colleges all over the country.   Years of working hard, spending so many sleepless hours in the night doing ‘combined studies’ and attending tuition classes had transformed their mindset into machines that did not ever complain about the workload nor the working conditions, until total failure or collapse of the system happened.

And that was how Sajan had trained himself to be.  He understood that hard work was indeed the key to success and doing his best was most important to climb up the ladder of hierarchy at the office.   He thought that was how it was when he was allocated the “night shift” and was willing to give it his best.  Sajan’s parents were financially well off and soon he was driving his new “Ford Ikon” to office, which was more than twenty five kilometers from his home.  His work timing was from 6pm to 6 am and he thought nothing of driving back home in the morning when the road was almost devoid of all traffic congestions.  He would reach home, eat his breakfast and then “sleep it off” for the next 6-7 hours.  It did not bother him too much that he had only a 2-3 hours a day to socialize and meet up with his friends.   And there was always Sunday to make up for the lost sleep and hanging out with guys.

On that fateful morning, Sajan was on his way home from work.  He reached Sreekaryam junction when he saw an auto rickshaw parked on the road side.  He found himself driving fast towards the auto rickshaw and made no attempt to steer clear of the parked vehicle.  The car crashed against auto, rose a few feet high into the air, rolled over and over a few times before settling down wheels up.  Sajan was thrown out of the car in the collision and suffered multiple fracture on his chest and legs.  It took him months of treatment and physiotherapy before he could walk, let alone drive a car.

I had known Sajan for about five years, since the time he had joined up in engineering college.  He was as hard working in the gym as he was at his studies in college.  His only regret when he took up his new job was that he would have to give up weight training.  He had asked my permission to come to the gym from his office, after his night’s work, but I dissuaded him.  I always believed there was nothing more terrible you could do to your body than working out in the gym without a good night’s sleep.  I had tried to make him aware of the consequences of spending so many sleepless nights and that he could never really “make up” for the lost time.   This was what he told me then, “Sir, this is the age when I can work hard and if I do so for a few more years, I would reach a position which would be less demanding and will have settled well in life.  What is a few sleepless nights to comfortable living in the near future?”.

What did happen to Sajan on that day?  Why he couldn’t avoid crashing against the autorikshaw?  Couldn’t he apply the brakes and stop the car?  Sajan’s own version was really simple. “ I simply couldn’t.  I sat at the wheel watching myself crash”  Can something like this happen to a young man whose physical and mental abilities could well be termed as ‘above average’?  Yes, it is possible and this story has repeated itself many times over.  Something similar befalls everyone who ignores the warning signs and do not sleep enough in the night.

Human beings are the only animals that need long, continuous, uninterrupted hours of sleep.  Every other animal can wake up at the slightest sound and become alert instantly.  Humans are also the only animals that cannot see anything at all in the dark.  This is not only elaborative of the importance of rest period that we need in the night but also indicative of how helpless we are in fighting nature or a behavioural pattern that is manifest as naturally as does hunger and thirst.  We are dependent on a lot of stimuli and conditioning that has been imbued into us by thousands of years of fine tuning by mother nature.  This is what modern life style seeks to change and fight against.

Can’t we make up for lost sleep in the night by sleeping during the day?  No, we cannot.  It is not just the earth that revolves round the sun, but our little lives too.  We need to be awake and face the sun every day for a few hours.  Our bodies require vitamin D to maintain calcium levels for strong bones, provide a boost to our immune system and regulate blood pressure.  Everything from digestion to a good sleep will depend on your activity during the day and not the night.  If you chose to keep awake during the night,  a host of hormonal changes happen in your body, to fight against the stress induced during the night.  Your sense of co-ordination, memory and alertness suffer a lot.  Ulcer, high blood pressure, heart attacks, lowered immunity, mood swings and other troubles follow.  You become less tolerant, more irritable and yes, you could become fat faster.

The youth in this country are being systematically squeezed dry of all their potential, ability to apply themselves whole heartedly and are denied all rights to live as a normal healthy human by the their employers or the firm in which work.  It does not matter to them that one of their employees becomes a mental and physical wreck by the time he reaches his fortieth birthday.  More and more young and bright people will replace these poor beings who are mentally and physically blunted of all their skill and made “bonsai” replica of what they could have become in future.   Night shift work denudes one of all his health, zest for life and leaves him tired and aimless for the rest of his life.  He will be drained of all ambition, drive and the will to excel in all his endeavours, as he used to be when he joined up on his first job.   Yes, this is what happens to all who spent most of their sleeping hours working their glutes out.

There is extra legal protection for people classed as night workers.  You are considered a night worker if you regularly work for at least three hours during the night time period either:

a.  on most of the days you work

b.  on a proportion of the days you work, which is specified in a collective or workforce agreement between your employer and the trade union

c.  often enough to say that you work such hours on a regular basis (eg a third of your working time could be at night, so you would be a night worker)

As a night worker, you should not work more than an average of eight hours in each 24-hour period. This includes regular overtime, and not occasional overtime. You cannot opt out of this night working limit.

If your night work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain, you can’t be made to work more than eight hours in any 24-hour period.

This is an absolute limit rather than an average limit and includes daytime overtime. With absolute limits you cannot work over eight hours in any 24-hour period. Average limits allow you to average the hours you work over a set period. For example, one night you work nine hours, the next night you work seven, averaging out at eight hours.

As there are health risks linked with night work, your employer must offer you a free health assessment (normally a questionnaire) before you start working at night and on a regular basis after that. Generally this is done once a year, but your employers could offer a health assessment more frequently. You do not have to take the health check offered.

Your employer should get help from a suitably qualified health professional when devising and assessing the health assessments. If you do complete a health assessment questionnaire and the answers cause concern, your employer should refer you to a doctor. If a doctor tells you that you have health problems caused by night work, your employer must transfer you to daytime work – if this is possible.

Regular medical check up by the company is a must to all who work night shifts.  More employees must be employed by the company that needs to work in the night hours, so that every single employee does not need to do more than 8 hours of night work every 24 hours.  This could burden the company with heavy expenditure used up mostly as salary and the employers know that they do not have to spend too much on employee’s health and can get away with murder inIndia.  The working hours may be stipulated as eight hours but no employee working in techno park gets back home after eight hours of work.  There is no time limit and the employee is often made to work like a mule with no regard or concern to his mental or physical health.  Many of these youth suffer from spondylitis and other physical ailments that accompany one who spends most of his time working hard, seated in a chair.

Most of the time, these rules are ignored by the employers. And the employee, even when he is aware of his rights, do not dare question the higher ups in his firm for fear of losing his job.  He may be aware of the dangers of not sleeping enough on a peripheral level, but does not realize the long term consequences of continuous night shift work.  The above mentioned rights are guaranteed to all who work night shifts, inUSA, but not to those who work for these American or western companies inIndia.  And we Indians are willing to work as underdogs without complaint for a few paltry dollars.

Once a famous American entrepreneur happened to mention “You pay peanuts as salary  and you will get only monkeys”.  He might as well have added “monkeys or Indians”.

Belair

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