Shift workers more likely to test positive for Covid-19 in hospital – study

Ella Pickover, PA Health Correspondent
·2-min read

People who work shifts are more likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19, a study suggests.

Shift work was associated with higher odds for Covid-19 regardless of job sector type, according to the study in the journal Thorax.

Researchers called for more to be done to ensure shift workers have safe working conditions.

They examined data from the UK Biobank study and cross-matched this with data on positive Covid-19 test results from patients in hospital.

Between March and the end of August 2020, more than 6,000 participants of the Biobank study had a Covid-19 test performed in hospital, with 498 of these giving a positive test result.

Of these, 316 did not work shifts while 98 worked irregular shifts and 84 worked permanent shifts.

Researchers examined data on various different types of shift work but healthcare workers were excluded from the analysis.

They found that shift workers have higher odds of testing positive for Covid-19 in hospital compared with non-shift workers.

A person doing irregular shift work was more than twice as likely to test positive for Covid-19 as someone not doing shift work, the authors found.

Permanent shift work appeared to make a person 2.5 times more likely to test positive for Covid-19, even after taking into account other factors including age, sex and ethnicity.

And those doing irregular night shifts were three times more likely to test positive for the virus in hospitals.

The authors said that the effect of shift work as a risk factor for Covid-19 is comparable to some other better-known risk factors for the disease, including ethnicity, high body mass index and living in a more deprived neighbourhood.

One of the possible explanations for the findings could be that shift workers face “increased occupancy of workspaces… reduced time for cleaning between shifts and tiredness resulting in less awareness of health and safety measures”, they said.

The authors concluded: “We show that there is an increased likelihood of Covid-19 in shift workers that is comparable with known Covid-19 risk factors.

“Sensible precautions in the workplace for shift workers might include increased after-hours training and supervision on safety protocols, increased cleaning schedules, reduced numbers of workers on any one shift, providing personal protective equipment to shift workers and targeting them for early Covid-19 vaccination programmes.”

Dr John Blaikley, of the University of Manchester, said: “This study shows quite a strong association between shift working and being hospitalised for Covid-19, even after controlling for existing Covid-19 risk factors.”

Co-author Dr Hannah Durrington, from the University of Manchester, said: “We do believe it should be possible to substantially mitigate these risks through good handwashing, use of face protection, appropriate spacing and vaccination.”