Managing Shift Work

Adapting to shift work is easy for some people while others never adjust. Exercise and a well balanced diet will probably help any adjustment. Family understanding and cooperation can also reduce stress that seems to go with a shift worker’s lifestyle. If you do find it difficult to adjust to shiftwork, you should discuss the problem with your supervisor or manager, occupational health nurse your doctor , counsellor or employee advisory service. They may be able to help you find a workable solution.

Devising an effective roster
More than a dozen health effects of shiftwork have now been identified and it is essential that rosters are designed so as to take account of factors such as adequate rest periods, circadian rhythms and social needs.

When planning a roster, safety factors should include:

  • a work cycle that is no more than six 8-hour shifts or four 12-hour shifts. Avoid work cycles of more than seven continuous days.
  • move with the clock. Studies show it’s easier and safer to go from the morning shift to the afternoon shift to an evening shift and to repeat the same cycle. The effects of shiftwork are similar to jet lag and it is easier for people to delay sleep than to go to bed earlier.
  • limit the number of nights worked in succession for safety reasons. Rotating rosters with shift changes every two or three days is preferable to seven-day rotating rosters or fixed shifts.
  • keep nightwork to a minimum. Three 8-hour or two 12-hour night shifts are the recommended maximum number of consecutive shifts which should be worked. Rostered days off should not be in the middle of a night shift sequence.
  • allow for two free weekends in four.
  • evaluate the length of shift according to workload. Avoid long shifts when there is excessive heat, cold, noise, vibration, manual handling or exposure to hazardous substances.

Occupational exposure levels are calculated as an average over an eight-hour day. When working longer shifts, exposure levels will need to be reassessed. Here are some tips:

  • try to avoid overtime before or after a night shift, a 12-hour or double shift or when there is heavy mental and physical strain involved.
  • work practices for night shiftworkers should be reviewed to incorporate as many safety checks as possible to overcome the tendency for reactions to slow down. This helps prevent accidents which could have far reaching effects on the workplace or the public.
  • schedule rest breaks during night shift to help workers maintain alertness. Try to have tasks involving interaction with other team members and plenty of movement to help them stay alert. Sedentary monotonous work performed in a comfortable and quiet environment is not conducive to staying awake.
  • try not to start day shifts before 6 am and allow some flexibility in start times if the work allows it. Try to coordinate start times with public transport timetables.
  • have minimum of 11 hours between shifts, preferably 12.
  • make sure there is adequate changeover time allowed between each shift to allow briefing between workers. Systems for transfer of information and communication should be established and maintained.
  • try to give workers at least one week’s notice of their roster, longer if possible.
  • Avoid rostering someone to work alone at night. If this is impossible, those working alone should have a way of communicating with colleagues to allow social contact. Provide them with access to help, should they be injured or threatened. As well, outside areas, walkways and workplace car parks should be clearly signposted, well lit and secure. Appropriate security arrangements should be made for shiftworkers, particularly when working after dark or over weekends.

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Comments (2)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Ed Coburn says:

    To make 24/7 operations run most effectively requires that shiftworkers make appropriate lifestyle adjustments (diet, exercise, sleep schedules, social life, etc.) and that management establish appropriate policies to support alertness, health, and safety.

    Here are a couple of recent posts on the National Shiftwork Information Center website that might help:

    Why managers in 24/7 need to pay attention to the special needs of shiftworkers

    Shiftwork schedules: fixed or rotating

    Shiftwork schedules in the 24/7 world

    Ed Coburn
    Executive Director, National Shiftwork Information Center

  2. Darren says:

    Working and having a very young family can be quiet demanding .Shift work can and in time take its toll on all who live with you and who are close to you.Persons who do work as shift workers walk a fine line trying to juggle both family time , rest time and social events.It seems that there is never a enough time for everyone.So what i find is you genarly go back to work for some kind of stubility and routine. Which may supprise most people? I use to train at my gym 6 times a week twice a day ,i was a state weight power lifter for my state ,and diet was very important to me.Now days i can go with out sleep for 6 days!
    I am slowly getting myself back into a more normal routine? Although my eating habits have changed somewhat ,now i only eat when i feel hungry.And because of this , i have lost my tone(body) and lost 7kl.

Leave a Reply

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.