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You asked for it and here it is. Toolbox Talk on health and safety for shift workers

by , 26 June 2015
Shift workers could be your biggest health and safety risk! Shift work is demanding, and the health and safety risks are high because of the lack of concentration.

Your employees must take responsibility for their own safety while on duty.

But the overall responsibility to make sure they're safe still falls on your shoulders. And you need to give them the proper training to keep safe.

So we've put together a Toolbox Talk you can give to make sure they stay safe and alert during shifts.

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Ways to improve your alertness at work

On some shifts, such as nights and very early mornings you may find it difficult to remain alert and this can affect your performance. It may also increase the risk of errors, injury and accidents. You may find it helpful to:
  • take moderate exercise before starting work which will increase your alertness during the shift;
  • keep the light bright;
  • take regular short breaks during the shift if possible;
  • get up and walk around during breaks;
  • plan to do more stimulating work at the times you feel most drowsy; and
  • keep in contact with your co-workers as this may help both you and them stay alert.

1. Driving to and from work

Driving to and from work can be risky, especially after a long shift or night shift. The following strategies will make driving safer:
  • use public transport rather than driving;
  • exercise before your trip;
  • share driving where you can;
  • drive carefully;
  • try not to hurry;
  • stop if you feel sleepy and take a short nap if it's safe to do so; and
  • make occasional use of caffeine or 'energy' drinks.

2. Identify a suitable sleep schedule

Adults need 7-8 hours sleep a day. Getting enough rest will help stay alert:
  • have a short sleep before your first night shift;
  • if coming off night shifts, have a short sleep and go to bed earlier that night;
  • once you have identified a suitable sleep schedule try to keep to it; and
  • make the environment favourable for sleeping

Not enough sleep and tiredness are the biggest causes for shift worker injuries. It's important to try and maintain your normal level of sleep and rest. Daytime sleep is usually lighter, shorter and poorer quality than night time sleep. It's more often disturbed because of warmer temperatures and daytime noise. To help make the environment favourable for sleeping:
  • sleep in your bedroom and avoid using it for watching TV, eating or working;
  • use heavy curtains, and blackout blinds to darken the bedroom;
  • disconnect the phone or use an answering machine and turn the ringer down;
  • ask your family not to disturb you and to keep the noise down when you're sleeping;
  • discuss your work pattern with close neighbours and ask them to try and avoid making too much noise;
  • if it's too noisy to sleep use earplugs or background music;
  • adjust the bedroom temperature to a comfortable level - cool conditions improve sleep.

3. Techniques to promote sleep

The following tips may help you relax after a shift and promote sleep:
  • go for a short walk, relax with a book, listen to music or take a hot bath before going to bed;
  • avoid exercise before sleep because it stimulates and raises body temperature;
  • avoid caffeine, 'energy' drinks and other stimulants a few hours before bedtime as they can stop you going to sleep;
  • don't go to bed feeling hungry: have a snack before sleeping BUT avoid fatty, spicy meals (they're more difficult to digest and can disturb sleep);
  • avoid alcohol - it lowers the quality of sleep.

And don't forget to include the following tips in your Toolbox Talk…
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Diet and exercise pay a big role in shift worker safety

4. Diet

Digestive problems are common in shift workers because of the upset of your body clock and poor diet. Plan your meals to help you stay alert at work and to sleep when you need to rest:
  • regular light meals are less likely to affect alertness or cause drowsiness than a single heavy meal;
  • choose foods that are easy to digest like pasta, rice, bread, salad, fruit, vegetables and dairy;
  • avoid fatty and spicy meals that are more difficult to digest. They can make you feel drowsy when you need to be alert! They also disturb sleep when you need to rest;
  • avoid sugary foods like chocolate – they only give a short-term energy boost before a dip in energy levels;
  • fruit and vegetables are good snacks because their sugar is converted into energy slowly and they also provide vitamins, minerals and fibre;
  • drink lots of fluid - dehydration reduces mental and physical performance. But avoid drinking too much fluid before sleeping because it could overload your bladder.

5. Physical fitness and a healthier lifestyle
An unhealthy lifestyle can increase the likelihood of sleep disorders. A good diet, regular meals and exercise can improve sleep quality, health and well-being:
  • You can improve your fitness by spending 30 minutes a day on a physical activity like walking.
  • Eat healthy meals regularly.
  • Cut down or give up smoking.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake.

What shift workers mustn't do

Shift workers often turn to coffee or cigarettes to keep them awake and things like alcohol or sleeping pills to help them sleep. Avoid these things because they only give short-term results.
  • Caffeine only improves alertness for short periods. Don't rely on it to keep you awake. Think about what might happen when its effects wear off. For example, when you're operating machinery or driving.
  • Avoid using alcohol to help you fall asleep. It affects the quality of your sleep and increases the risk of long-term damage to your health, your work and personal relationships.
  • Don't use sleeping pills because it could lead to addiction.

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