Bosses and workers to be warned of perils of night work

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2008, 12:00am

The government will issue guidelines to employers and staff concerning night shift work, which a World Health Organisation study has said probably has a carcinogenic affect.

The guidelines, due to be issued by the Labour Department, will discuss health and social problems arising from shift work and propose measures to minimise the health effects of night work.

The government will also shorten the 12-hour night shift to eight hours for outsourced services, mainly in the Leisure and Cultural Services, Food and Environmental Hygiene and the Housing departments and the Government Property Agency.

The measures were released yesterday as part of the response to lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing's questions over the possible harm caused by night work, which was said in the WHO study last month to be able to influence melatonin levels and therefore increase the risk of cancer.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the authority had taken note of internationally accepted occupational health protection measures and would also study the findings, to be published by the WHO later this year, before launching the guidelines.

'Although the guide does not have a binding force, we believe it will affect our promotion to some extent,' Mr Cheung told the Legislative Council yesterday.

The guidelines, for example, will suggest that employers bear the guidelines in mind when making work arrangements and advise employees to sleep in a dark, quiet environment as soon as possible after night work.

It will also offer health tips such as avoiding drinking coffee, tea or alcohol before sleeping.

But several labour groups are already shrugging off the proposed guidelines.

Mung Siu-tat, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said the government had issued similar 'guidelines' before with little impact.

'It is not a law,' he said. 'I don't think many employers will be willing to recruit more people to shorten shifts,' he said.

Taxi and Public Light Bus Concern Group chairman Lai Ming-hung said most minibus drivers were working shifts from noon to midnight or 3pm to 3am. 'Of course everybody wants to work less. But the competition from buses and the MTR is huge. It is just impossible for us to cut the working hours at night,' Mr Lai said.

Meanwhile, the Labour Department revealed it had no plan to require all departments to adopt a system for posts that involved shift work.

Mr Cheung ruled out including the kinds of cancer the WHO judged that night work triggered as an occupational disease under the Employees' Compensation Ordinance. 'There's still limited medical evidence showing night shifts pose a significant and recognised risk,' he added.