British Columbia·Night Shift

This is life on the night shift: armed robberies, pure exhaustion and beating time zone differences

From responding to emergency calls to running 24-hour shops, there are plenty of jobs that start as the rest of the world settles into bed for the night.

As most of the world settles in for the night, some Vancouverites are just starting their day

Mohammad Ali likes the quietness of working night shifts at the all-hours corner shop Hasty Market and says it gives him time to think about life. (Jake Costello/CBC)

From responding to emergency calls to running 24-hour shops, there are plenty of jobs that start as the rest of the world settles into bed for the night.

For some people, like Mohammad Ali who works at the all-hours corner shop Hasty Market, the night shift is a great gig. 

"I can [stay] in contact with my family easier," said Ali.

He's originally from Bangladesh, where his family still lives — a 13-hour time difference away from Vancouver.

Hasty Market is located on Main and 16th in Vancouver and is a staple in the community - especially among other night owls. (Creator Network/CBC)

When Ali works nights, he and his far-away family are on the same schedule.

"My son is three-years-and-four-months-old, so it's very interesting to talk with him," he said.

"And I love to talk to my mom because she is my best friend, too."

Watch a night-in-the-life of Mohammad Ali and see his impact on the community:

Mohammad Ali works at the all-hours corner shop Hasty Market so that he can stay in contact with his family in Bangladesh. 2:52

Tense moments on the night shift

But the graveyard shift is not as simple as just working different hours. Night workers can face everything from armed robberies on the job to an increased risk of cancer.

Terrence Sastre works overnight at Siegel's Bagels in Kitsilano and regularly faces tense situations with people coming into the late-night snack shop.

"Just last week, I had this guy who pointed a gun at me," said Sastre.

"I was frozen in front of the till … I was like 'I don't want to die in here.'"

Terrence Sastre, who works at overnight at Siegel's Bagels, started doing the graveyard shift when he first moved to Canada as a way of being able to work more hours per day. (Jake Costello/CBC)

Sastre ran to the phone to call 911 just as a police officer in uniform, a regular customer at the bagel shop, strolled in. The would-be thief ran off.

The VPD are investigating the incident.

Siegel's Bagels serves up fresh-baked bagels at all hours of the night. Some customers coming into for a late-night snack are rude and aggressive to staff, Sastre says. (Jake Costello/CBC)

A regular occurrence for irregular hours

Sastre started working the graveyard shift six years ago; one of five jobs he had at the time. He wanted to maximize the amount of time he could work when he moved to Canada.

When he's not facing gun-wielding robbers, Sastre regularly has to deal with rude, inebriated customers.  

Sastre has been working night shifts at the bagel shop for six years. (Jake Costello/CBC)

Earlier that night, Sastre said, he got into a heated interaction with an aggressive man over the amount of mustard on his bagel.

"He started to swear at me and point at me," he said.

Incidents like that happen multiple times a week, he said, and he doesn't feel as safe as he used to.

As many as 12 per cent of all workers in Canada are on the clock after midnight, for at least part of the night. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

'It really takes a toll'

Sastre is far from alone in the hours he keeps.

In British Columbia, more than 61,000 people work straight through the night and more than 400,000 work either rotating shifts or have an irregular schedule.

Both WorksafeBC and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, two groups that monitor workers' safety, both say they are increasingly watchful of conditions for shift workers.

And for good reason: studies show a heightened cancer risk for nurses and pilots who work shift work, for example, and other health impacts.

Shift workers face increased risks of violence on the job. That's why there are guidelines in place to protect people like gas station attendants, for example, who work behind locked doors or have a window to interact with customer. (Jake Costello/CBC)

Tom Brocklehurst, with WorkSafeBC, knows first-hand what late-night shifts feel like. He used to work overnight for Canada Post.

"[The hours] seem very long, it is a bit disorientating when your shift is over and the day is just starting — you're fighting that circadian rhythm," said Brocklehurst.

Night Shift is a series that looks at life on the clock, around the clock. It's produced by Jake Costello and airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition from March 25 - 29.

With files from The Early Edition

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