Working night shifts can be hazardous to your health. The practice has long been associated with a range of problems, including heart attacks, diabetes and cancer. This comes as a result of working at night in principle, but also the disruption that comes from trying to sleep during the day – especially if you’re trying to drop off at inconsistent times.
Let’s take a look at some of these problems in closer detail, and try to work out what we can do about them.
Hazards to Employees working Night Shifts
Under UK law, any worker who works at least three hours between 11pm and 6am is classed as a night worker. Professionals frequently asked to work during this time include nurses, midwives, and truck drivers.
In many cases, these workers are working in isolation, which puts them at increased risk of loneliness – but also of being physically attacked. This applies especially to professionals who are looking after cash, like shop assistants in twenty-four hour petrol stations.
Sleep disruption can be a killer. Human beings are naturally diurnal, hard-wired to rise just as the sun is coming up. While we can try to replicate these effects using blackout curtains and eye masks, it’s always going to be more difficult for night-shift workers to enjoy quality sleep – especially if they have social and leisure commitments during the day time.
Workers suffering from sleep deprivation will also be more likely to be involved in road accidents while travelling to and from work. If driving is a part of the job – as might be the case with emergency service workers and hauliers, then this risk is especially great.
What can be done?
There are a few things we might do to mitigate the harm.
Mandated Rest Breaks
Forcing staff to work extended hours will compromise their performance and their safety. This is legally mandated – though there are some opt-outs.
Wearing the correct uniform will allow night-shift workers to be more easily recognised. This is especially useful for workers in hazardous environments, like roadworks, who can be equipped with high-visibility jackets.
Employee wellbeing should be regularly and closely monitored, especially just prior to the start of a spell of night-shifts. If the employee’s mental health puts them at risk, then alternatives should be sought. A risk-assessment might look to account for employee workload, and shift timing, too.
Have a formal process for concerns
If staff believe that their wellbeing is being endangered by night work, then they should have a means of raising their concerns without fear of reprisal. An open-door policy can help you to identify and eliminate potential problems before they have a chance to cause harm.
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