Shiftwork comes with many inherent risks – especially risks related to human error.
Here’s a useful checklist that managers can use to identify which safety practices should be added to their shiftwork operation.
Require daytime managers to periodically work at night.
Managers who’ve experienced the challenges that of working at 4 A.M. are more likely to think of practical ways to improve the safety and wellness of their shiftworkers than managers who’ve never experienced a night shift.
Evaluate your work environment
Conduct a comprehensive review of your workplace to identify factors that contribute to fatigue – such as dim lighting, poor airflow, and warm temperatures (i.e. over 70 degrees).
Put shiftwork safety on the agenda
Make sure that overnight safety is a mandated discussion point at safety committee meetings and that night workers have a seat at the table.
Teach workers about sleep and napping
Getting enough off-duty sleep is the most effective way to maintain alertness. You can’t force workers to sleep, but you can ensure that they are given sufficient shiftwork lifestyle training to educate them on the fundamental importance of sleep, getting quality daytime sleep, and making the most of pre-work naps.
Permit several short breaks
Many shiftwork jobs involve doing the same task for long stretches of time. This monotony can induce microsleeps and other lapses in alertness – especially on the night shift. In addition to a 25- to 35-minute break per shift, workers on the night shift benefit from a 10- to 15-minute break every two or three hours.
Assess your schedule
No shiftwork schedule is perfect, but some are particularly difficult. Schedules that require workers to rotate backward (i.e., to go from nights to evenings to days) or work five or more consecutive 12-hour shifts can exacerbate fatigue levels.
People are more likely to make mistakes when they’ve accumulated a sleep debt from several days of insufficient sleep — which may result from excess overtime. Keep an eye on overall overtime levels (including a breakdown of day vs. night OT hours) and identify individual “overtime hogs” who accrue large amounts of extra work hours.
Standardize shift change proceduresA large proportion of accidents occur during shift changes because of the additional movement around the plant and the increased need for communication among workers. Make sure you have procedures in place that ensure a smooth transition between shifts.
Watch out for “The Wall”
Due to the dip in circadian rhythms, the hours between 4 and 6 A.M. are generally the hardest — and riskiest — hours of the night shift to work. Exercise has been shown to boost alertness, making an exercise bike or treadmill available for interested workers may minimize the risk of “hitting the wall”.
Don’t forget the drive home
Due to the increased risk of falling asleep at the wheel, the post-shift commute home is often a dangerous part of a shiftworker’s day. Provide workers with a quiet room to nap in before heading home.
Provide shiftwork lifestyle training
Whether it’s handing out relevant literature, providing training online, or holding in-person seminars – it’s always a wise idea to educate workers on the health and safety challenges of shiftwork. Providing shiftwork lifestyle training is also a great way to show workers that you recognize the unique challenges they face – which can improve employee morale.
Managing a Shiftwork Lifestyle Training
Working closely with researchers and experienced shiftworkers, CIRCADIAN has developed the Managing a Shiftwork Lifestyle training program to provide practical solutions for easing the adjustment and day-to-day difficulties associated with shiftwork lifestyles.
Download our complementary CIRCADIAN white paper, “Shiftwork Lifestyle Training: Employee and Employer Benefits”
CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock. Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research and technology, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations in the 24-hour economy optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of their extended hours operations.