Spending longer hours at work for fewer days in the week is better for your health than eight-hour shift work spread over five days, according to a study on the implications for shiftworkers of a Europewide 48-hour working week.
The findings of Simon Folkard at the Medical Research Council's Body Rhythms and Shiftwork Centre at the University of Wales, suggest the sequencing and spacing of shiftwork are more important than the actual length of a shift in determining health, happiness and alertness. The results have been released in the same week as Britain's appeal against enforcement of the EC working time directive - which stipulates a maximum 48-hour working week - was rejected by the European Court of Justice.
Dr Folkard's analysis of chemicals workers operating a 42-hour week divided into 12-hour or eight-hour shift systems shows that those on shorter shifts are more alert at work but experience more cardiovascular problems and more disruption to their social life.
"Compressing the working week into fewer yet longer shifts may not be entirely problematic for the workers concerned," Dr Folkard concludes in this week's Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Most of the 12-hour shift workers in the study worked only two, or sometimes three, shifts in a row before having either two or three rest days, and Dr Folkard concludes that it is probably this favourable spacing of long shifts that contributes to reduced levels of fatigue.
But Dr Folkard added that there will inevitably be problems if the Government refuses to back down on the issue of working hours. "There will be health and safety implications," he said.