Five Steps You Can Take to Reduce Night Shift Risk

01 May 2017

working night shift

Do you have contractors working night shift at your company? If you do, you know the benefits of having one. Night shifts provide numerous business advantages that can help you compete in today’s intensely competitive environments. Night shifts boost productivity, increase operational flexibility, and help companies meet deadlines. Advantages like these are why more and more companies are adding night shifts to their businesses. In some industries, night shifts are the only way some organizations can stay competitive.

But night shifts have their challenges. A key one is that they increase risk. Savvy companies with night shifts work hard at reducing risk by taking the right steps, like providing the extensive training, educating employees on the hazards of working at night, and creating a safety plan that covers all the right topics. Taking the right steps not only cuts down on accidents and injuries but also increases productivity, limits security issues, and enhances morale. More importantly, it boosts competitiveness and profitability.

Regulating the Night Shift

In general, health and safety authorities don’t regulate night shifts. But they do require employers to do several things, like assessing and monitoring the health of employees and contractors, as well as educating them about the dangers of working night shift. They also require that employees take medical assessment tests to determine if they can work at night. Employee assessments must be carried out by a registered medical practitioner or a knowledgeable person acting under his or her supervision.

Authorities require employees to take medical assessments test because of the enormous health safety risks associated with working at night. Working night shift interferes with a worker’s circadian rhythms. They regulate body functions like temperature, metabolism, digestion, blood pressure, sleeping, waking, and adrenaline secretion. These rhythms make up our body’s internal clock and coordinate with themselves to allow for high activity during the day and low activity at night.

Disrupting one’s circadian rhythms can lead to a variety of health problems, including heart disease, stomach disorders, and circadian dysrhythmia. Disrupting circadian rhythms also can also lead to psychological problems for night shift workers. These include:

  • Sleep loss/fatigue
  • Lowered performance
  • Poor concentration
  • Increased accidents
  • Added stress
  • More headaches
  • Lack of motivation

Also, several cancer studies have shown that working night shift boosts the chances of developing cancer.

More importantly, disrupting a worker’s circadian rhythm increases an employee’s chances of having an accident or incurring an injury—especially if they’re contractors. They often lack sufficient safety training when starting a new job, so are more prone to mishaps. Some companies have no orientation programs at all for contingent workers or new employees, which is asking for trouble.

Lowering Night Shift Risk

working night shift

Savvy organizations take steps to reduce the added risk that comes with having a night shift. In addition to scheduling frequent breaks and regular meals, these companies make sure they have adequate staffing, limit employee exposure to hazards, and diligently monitor employees for the signs and symptoms of night-shift related effects. They include things like irritability, depression, and lack of concentration. Monitoring employees while they work is where the latest advances in technology, like embedded
“wearable” technology, can help.

Wearable technology uses devices with real-time sensors to track what’s happening with workers. Smart helmets are a good example of this technology. Managers can then take action based on this data. For example, two oil companies fitted employees on their drilling platforms with wearable devices that tracked their activity, location, and exposure to chemicals. By limiting exposure to harsh conditions, these companies ensured that night shift workers got the rest they needed, reducing sick time by over 40 percent.

Below are four other measures companies can take to reduce night shift risk:

  • Use email to update night shift workers on safety — Workers can easily get out of touch with what’s happening with safety. But companies can use email to update them on what’s going on. If the employees use a computer for work, a company can send them regular safety updates as soon as they log in. If employees have computers at home, they can log into the company’s email system to get safety update before coming to work. You can also use email to send friendly reminders to employees about safety mid-shift. The key is not to bombard workers with emails.
  • Boost training for night shift workers/contractors — More than 15 million Americans work the night shift, while more than 3 million Britons do the same. Many have been doing it for a while. Experts recommend that companies train employees and contractors on the hazards of working night shift no matter how long they’ve been working night shift. Providing employees and contractors with written material helps. What can also help is switching to an online safety training program. Online training boosts retention rates among employees, compresses learning time, and improves training effectiveness—all while lowering training costs. It also allows companies to meet the unique training needs of contractors.
  • Use onboarding software for contractors/new workers — Establishing an effective safety and health management program reduces accident and injury costs anywhere from 20 to 40 percent. Onboarding software can play a big part creating a safer worksite, especially when it comes to contractors and temporary employees. When combined with Cloud technology, onboarding software offers advancements that boost effectiveness. Features like self-paced learning, knowledge testing, and repetition of key information can help new workers begin their first days with a clear understanding of the hazards they face.
  • Develop a company-wide safety plan — Every employer should create a safety plan for a company’s workers regardless of what shift they’re on. A safety plan helps reduce risk and delivers real bottom-line and operational benefits.

The typical safety plan covers four key areas:

  • Management/leadership/employee involvement
  • Worksite analysis
  • Hazard prevention and control
  • Safety and health training/education

Other things safety plans often contain are safety objectives, management responsibilities, communication strategies, and information on progress meetings, site rules, and site access.

Additional things a company can do to reduce night shift risk include educating everyone about the importance of sleep, updating employees on the dangers of coming to and going from work, and ensuring all workers are wearing correct personal protection devices, like hard hats and high visibility clothing.

Taking the steps discussed above can help companies reduce night shift risk. All of those mentioned above are proven risk-reducing tactics. Lowering night shift risk not only cuts medical and compensation costs but also boosts efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness. In addition, it enables companies to enjoy all the benefits that having a night shift offers, including increasing profitability in highly competitive environments.

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Jenny Snook

Jenny Snook is content executive at GoContractor with the job of researching the latest health and safety trends in the heavy industry. Her past-experience includes the research of large museum collections such as the Louth County Museum, many from the industrial age.

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