We live in a globalized 24-hour society, consuming services, products and entertainment around the clock. As a result, more and more people are working irregular hours.
Indeed, per the Ontario-based Workers Health and Safety Centre, one in four Canadian employees now work shifts – with one in five specifically on the night shift.
With the night shift becoming essential to many companies, it’s important to remember that irregular hours, particularly at night, can take a toll on employee health.
Stress, an increased risk of accidents and illness, and sleep deprivation are all concerns for night shift workers. In fact, according to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, about 10 per cent of night and rotating shift workers have a diagnosable “shift-work sleep disorder.”
So the question is: what can employers do to help? When your company requires the graveyard shift, what can you do to make life for your workers a little easier?
Here are six things to do for your night shift workers:
Learn from the experts
A great place to start is the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, which has guidelines for employers (and employees) to reduce the negative effects of shiftwork.
It also covers off some relevant general info on the topic, including circadian rhythms, common disorders associated with shiftwork, and more. (In the U.S., the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has created similar guidelines.)
Look at your schedule
Both of the above guidelines stress the importance of scheduling the night shift to be as short as possible – and for as few consecutive nights as possible.
Research has shown that the risk of accidents and injuries increases with each consecutive night shift, rising by as much as 36 per cent on the fourth night compared to the first. The risk of injuries is also twice as high on 12-hour shifts than on eight-hour shifts, particularly during those last four hours of work.
So, wherever possible, changing up schedules to avoid consecutive shifts and capping night work to eight hours can make a huge difference.
Be flexible and plan for breaks
If the schedule changes from week to week, it’s important to give your team ample notice. Create and share schedules at least two weeks ahead of time so that workers have a chance to adjust their sleep patterns accordingly – and be mindful of any family commitments or rescheduling requests that might come up.
Also, make sure your night shifts are evenly distributed among enough employees to allow for frequent breaks. What’s more, encourage napping during breaks: studies have shown that short naps of 15 to 20 minutes provide an alertness boost that lasts several hours.
You can also improve the health and happiness of night-shifters by implementing fitness or exercise breaks.
According to the consultancy firm Circadian, which specializes in shift work and its effects on human health, physical exercise during the overnight hours boosts alertness – so it’s a win-win to allow workers to get fit on the job.
Provide healthy food
Offering healthy snacks is always good form in the workplace, but for the late shift, it becomes all the more important because donuts, burgers, and other junk foods are harder to digest at night.
On the other hand, keeping fruits and veggies on hand for employees to snack on during the night will keep them alert and happy throughout their shift. And be sure to offer drinks other than coffee and caffeinated beverages – water, low-sugar juice and other options will help them avoid crashing.
Try anti-fatigue tools
There’s a wide range of accessories and tools to consider that can help combat fatigue. Implementing lighting controls, for example, can allow the late-night workers to adjust the lighting as needed to stay focused. And anti-fatigue rubber mats are a great option for employees who are on their feet a lot.
In general, though, the goal is simple: give your night shift workers what they need to remain safe, healthy, and alert throughout their shift.