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Want to implement a shift work system in your workplace? Consider these three factors first

by , 16 July 2013
While shift work has always been a reality for services such as hospitals, the police, paramedics and firemen, more and more companies are moving in that direction to provide services or continuous production 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If your company is planning to implement a shift work system, here's what you must consider to ensure shift work doesn't become a hazard for your business and your employees.

When implementing a shift work system in your workplace, you need to be aware of the fact that shift work affects your employee's circadian rhythms, says the Health and Safety Advisor.

You see, many human physical functions follow a daily rhythm of a 24-hour cycle, called circadian rhythms. These rhythmical processes are co-ordinated to allow for high activity during the day and low activity at night.

But when your employee works a night shift, their body temperature doesn't have as much variation during a 24- hour period as it normally would. As a result their temperature rhythm and other body rhythms get out of sync. This can lead to fatigue and disorientation, which can cause serious accidents while working.

That's why it's crucial that you take the following into consideration when implementing a shift work system.

Three essential points to consider before implementing a shift system in your company

#1: Length of rotation periods

This is the number of days on any one shift before switching to the next shift. Bear in mind that the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), requires you to allow for a 36-hour continuous resting period per week.

For example, Sipho works night shift in your company. His shift only ends at 04h00. Due to the lack of transportation, Sipho only gets a taxi at 06h00 and gets home at 07h00. His shift starts again at 16h00.

This means Sipho won't have enough time to rest for his next shift.

So you'll need to determine if you need to provide transport on a case by case basis. Make sure you take into account all the relevant factors, including what time of night or morning the shift starts and ends, the office location, how far your employees have to travel and whether they have to travel through high crime risk areas.

While you don't have a blanket obligation to guarantee your employees' safety when they travel to and from work by providing a door to door shuttle service, you have a moral obligation and must, ensure your employee's unusual working hours don't stop him from getting to and from work without undue hardship.

 #2: Direction of rotation of shifts

It's recommended that shifts rotate forward from day to afternoon to night because circadian rhythms are better moving ahead than back.

For example, if your employee works an eight hour shift schedule, then his shift will start at 06h00 and end at 14h00. His next shift change will start at 14h00 to 22h00 and thereafter his next shift change will be at 22h00 to 06h00.

#3: Start and finish times

Early morning shifts are associated with shorter sleep and greater fatigue.

Avoid shift starting times as early as 05h00 or 06h00. You must consider the availability of public transport. You must also consider the safety on the streets with regard to crime and violence.

Taking these factors into account will help you implement an efficient shift system that won't compromise your employee's health and productivity.

To protect the health and safety of your shift workers, you need make sure they are always alert. Turn to chapter S06 of your Health and Safety Advisor to get the 12 ways to promote alertness at work.

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