NPR’s Morning Edition has been running an interesting series by Jennifer Ludden on flexible workplaces, and the third part addresses a question that’s particularly challenging: How can shift workers get the same scheduling flexibility that many cubicle workers already enjoy?

Ellen Kosser at Michigan State University is conducting a National Institutes of Health study on how managers can make it easier for their hourly workers to resolve scheduling conflicts between their job and family responsibilities. Ludden explains that improving workplace flexibility can contribute to better employee health:

The NIH wanted to know whether this kind of flexibility at work can improve employee health, so they matched manager flexibility against various measures of employee well-being. Kossek says those with the most accommodating managers “had better physical health reports, better sleep quality, higher job satisfaction, and less stress over work-life conflicts.” …

Kossek says [improving flexibility] could mean posting schedules farther in advance, making it easier for workers to trade shifts or cross-training more people for the same job — or simply easing rules on cell-phone use.

A five-minute break would allow a cashier to call her child “even if it wasn’t when her official break was, but when she knew the bus got home,” Kossek says.

Parts One and Two of the series are also online.

In other news:

New York Times: A settlement has been reached to compensate workers who suffer health problems after exposures to contaminants at the World Trade Center site, but at least 95% of the plaintiffs must agree to the terms.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: OSHA has sent a letter to the 15,000 workplaces with the highest numbers of injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work, restricted work activities or job transfers, encouraging them to take advantage of OSHA resources for improving worker safety. The list of employers receiving the letter is available online.

Hartford Courant: Molecular biologist Becky McClain is suing her former employer, Pfizer, claiming that she was exposed to a genetically engineered form of a lentivirus and as a result suffers from a condition that periodically paralyzes her.

Science News: At the Society for Toxicology annual meeting, University of Texas Southwestern researchers showed brain images that show how brain activity of veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome differs from that of healthy veterans from the same battalions.

Guardian: National Institute of Cancer research finds that men (but not women) who work outdoors have a reduced risk of kidney cancer.