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Four ways to control shift work hazards

by , 10 September 2013
Did you know incidents on night shifts have increased by 28%? Don't become a statistic. Put a stop to costly incidents today using these four methods.

A shift worker has to function on an 'unnatural' schedule. Constantly changing schedules can:

  • Make existing disorders worse, for example, asthma and sleep disorders;
  • Make existing chronic illness disorders like diabetes or high or low blood pressure worse;
  • Cause chronic illnesses where none existed before;
  • Cause obesity because of abnormal eating habits;
  • Cause depression and other psychological problems;
  • Be a factor in cancer related health issues; and
  • Disrupt family and social life.

But here's the thing, shift work doesn't just have physical health side-effects, it can increase your chance of a fatal accident too.

Since prevention's always better than cure, implement measures in your workplace from the beginning to control and minimise shift work hazards as much as possible.

Use these four methods to minimise shift work hazards

Method#1: Organisational control options

  • Schedule less demanding tasks for night shift workers.
  • Minimise dangerous work to dayshift and the operation of your machinery (which operates at a low risk) for night shift.
  • Adjust the workload to prevent boredom. Train your employees to do tasks other than their normal day to day functions.

For example, if you have an employee that only types letters, train her to file or operate the switchboard. This employee can then be used in the filing room and on the switchboard. This'll change in their daily operation will help them prevent boredom.

Method#2: Shift scheduling

The risk to your worker depends on when the shift is scheduled:

Compressed work week: These shifts usually involve three to four days of 10 to 12 hour shifts a week.

This provides more opportunities for family time and social activities.

Just keep in mind that these shifts can increase fatigue and decrease performance. They also increase the exposure to chemical, biological and physical hazards. Another problem is arranging childcare during these extended shifts.

If you can, the Health&Safety Advisor urges you to schedule shorter, but more frequent, shifts. If your workplace allows the possibility for a crèche at work, this can also be a useful solution for your employees who work shifts.

 It can help encourage employees to work shifts, improve morality and positive attitude towards the company.

Permanent afternoon, evening or night shifts: These allow your workers time to adjust to working at a fixed time each day, but it can be disruptive to their social lives.

Method#3: Pay close attention to workplace design

You can use the design of your workplace to help improve conditions:

  • Reduce night traffic, noise and distractions by introducing rugs, mats, curtains, or carpets to absorb noise in your workplace.
  • Ensure all work spaces are well lit. Keep work and traffic areas brightly lit to promote alertness.

Method#4: Create a policy around violence and crime during shift working hours

Develop a policy to minimise the risk of crime and violence.

Remember, your night shift workers are exposed to the risk of robbery and muggings because they leave work at odd hours of the morning. They're also at risk of the possibility of an armed robbery at your plant/site where shift work takes place.

Your policy must:

  • Identify actions to minimise or eliminate risks. For example, place a security guard at the entrance gate,
  • Arrange transport if the shift ends between 00h30 and 07h00; and
  • State that you'll investigate and follow up on incidents involving workers and that you'll take the necessary disciplinary action.

There are many risks associated with shift work. But you can manage them with these methods.

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