It has been estimated that more than three million workers in the UK work on night shifts. This is because an increasing number of industries provide 24-hour services. These can include medical work, customer service phonelines, and fast-food restaurants. More people working night shifts, however, means that workers’ wellbeing becomes even more important. Here we will discuss how you can keep your employees safe when they are working on night shifts.
What is a Night Shift?
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) defines a night shift as any hours of work between 11pm and 6am. An employee will be considered a night shift worker if they work more than three hours between those hours over a 17-week period.
By law, employees cannot be forced to work more than eight hours a night within a 24-hour period.
Hazards of Working on Night Shifts
Working on a night shift brings a range of hazards. Some could be encountered in any line of work, whilst others are more prevalent on the night shift. One of the leading hazards when working on night shifts is fatigue.
For most people, night is a time for sleeping. Our body clocks are naturally tuned to be more proactive in daytime. As such, working on a night shift can lead to increased fatigue even before work has been done. If an employee has not had adequate sleep before their night shift, especially, they are likely to become fatigued. This, in turn, can lead to accidents at work.
Aggressive members of the public are a hazard in many lines of work. Retail workers, especially, face aggression on an almost daily basis. Unfortunately, this aggression also affects employees working on night shifts. In some cases, they may even be at increased risk. Late hours mean there are less people around, and therefore criminal activity is less likely to be noticed. Moreover, people are more likely to be inebriated as a result of drugs or alcohol in the evenings and at night. Lone workers, especially, are vulnerable to aggressive members of the public.
Some night shift jobs can lead to employees working in areas of reduced lighting. It may be that the worksite has turned its lights down at night, or there may simply be a lack of lighting from outside. Whatever the reason, poor lighting in a workplace can pose risks to employees working on night shifts. Trip and slip hazards may not be visible, or malevolent individuals may be able to sneak onto a site.
How to Support Wellbeing on Night Shifts
Knowing what hazards exist when working on night shifts is only part of the solution. As an employer you should have systems in place to help mitigate these risks and ensure the safety of your night shift workers.
One of the best means of ensuring your employees’ continued wellbeing is to carry out regular risk assessments. These will not only identify areas of concern, but also help you to implement measures that minimise risks. These risk assessments should be completed on a regular basis. For lone workers expected to work at night, this should also be covered in your lone working policy.
It is important that all night shift workers have the opportunity to rest. The Working Time Regulations 1998 state that workers need at least 11 hours rest between shifts. This is so they can commute, sleep, eat meals, and engage in activities outside of work.
If you are employing sleep-in workers – staff who work for longer than 8 hours a night and sleep on-site – they must be provided with an appropriate space for sleeping. Time must also be allocated for them to rest. A lack of adequate sleep can result not only in a lack of productivity, but also a loss of concentration that could lead to an accident.
When scheduling work for employees who are working on a night shift, it is important that you are mindful of fatigue. It can help to assign demanding work for the beginning of a shift when night workers are more likely to be alert. Similarly, physical and mental tasks should be alternated to give employees the opportunity to recover.
Where possible, the workplace should be adjusted to improve the wellbeing of your night shift workers. Increased lighting in a workplace not only reduces the likelihood of accidents; it can also have an impact on fatigue. Brighter lights simulate daylight, tricking the body into being more awake.
Another change is to adjust heating in the workplace. Nights tend to be colder than days, and low temperatures can cause drowsiness. Turning up the heating for employees working on the night shift can help to keep them alert.
When lone workers are on the night shift, they require the same protection they would be provided with during the day. In some cases, this protection may be even more necessary. One way of protecting your lone workers is to invest in a lone worker alarm.
These devices provide workers with 24/7 protection in case of an emergency at work. By activating their alarm, they are put in touch with our Monitoring Team, who then assess the situation and alert emergency contacts. In appropriate situations, they will also contact the emergency services.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 22nd June 2022 to reflect current information.