It's not called the graveyard shift for nothing – night shift work comes with well-known dangers. Your employees are at higher risk for accidents and injuries, while any clients they serve are at higher risk of being harmed as a result of poor attention and judgment. Understanding why night shifts are accidents waiting to happen can help you help your employees to work more safely and more rested.
The risks of working night shifts are considerable. Occupational Health & Safety Journal reports that work-related injuries increase more than 25 percent on night shifts relative to days shifts. The risk for injury more than doubles with each consecutive night shift worked, going from 6 percent on the second night to 17 percent the third and 36 percent on the fourth night. Not all the risks are directly work-related, however; working nights has been linked to heart disease, metabolic disorders and increased instances of tobacco and alcohol use.
Sleep It Off
Almost all night shift safety issues boil down to one issue: sleep disturbance. Working at night forces the body to fight the natural circadian rhythms that encourage us to work during the day and sleep at night. Daytime sleep is often disturbed by light, noise and activity, creating a cycle of increasing "sleep debt" for each night shift worked, as sleep quality varies or decreases through the night shift work week.
Working against the body's natural rhythms and sleep requirements will cause more than just sleepiness and crankiness. The longer you work without adequate rest, the bigger the deficits in attention span, judgment, motor skills and short-term memory. It's not surprising, then, that work accidents and after-work motor vehicle accidents are higher for night shift employees than for day shift workers.
Employers can decrease the likelihood of workplace safety issues and employee health and safety issues by being mindful of employees' rest needs when scheduling. Occupational Health & Safety Journal recommends that employers try to limit consecutive night shifts to four nights in a row, with no more than 48 hours a week per employee, providing 11 hours minimum between shifts, and 24 to 48 hours minimum when rotating employees from night shift.
Employees should recognize and combat the reasons for night shift's inherent dangers by creating the best possible environment for resting between night shifts. Limiting coffee and other stimulants several hours before the end of a night shift can help your body to transition to restfulness after the shift is over. Occupational Safety & Health Journal recommends creating a good environment for daytime rest by using blackout drapes, turning off phones and using a fan or white noise to mask daytime noises.
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