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Safeguarding health and improving night shift safety of our employees
One out of five employees and workers in developed nations (this is 20% of all of them) does not enjoy the luxury of sleeping at night. Policing, healthcare, and some service and industrial jobs go on 24 hours/day. This means that somebody needs to be out there on the graveyard shift in order to keep society running.

Experts have studied the impact of this chaotic existence on the health of shift workers.

Some studies have concluded that employees who work other than the standard daytime shifts will probably face a host of challenges, including mental and physical fatigue, stress, digestive problems and feelings of isolation from the community, friends and family. Evidence also shows that shift workers have a greater risk of suffering accidents.

There might be an even more worrying risk: studies show that night shift work raises the occurrence of cancers. This is because the production of melatonin, the hormone generated during our sleep time, which suppresses tumours, is actually suppressed by staying awake. It must be said that this is a controversial finding, since some other studies have not shown a definitive connection between cancer rates and melatonin production.

Night work

How should we deal with night shifts?

In order to help employers and managers deal with the issues involved in shift work safety, we recommend the following guidelines:

    - Explain to your employees what shift work actually entails. Before they go ahead and take a night shift job, employees need to have time to consider how it will impact their lives. Give them some time to think about it before agreeing to this.

    - Potential volunteers. Some people would rather work night shifts. Perhaps it lets them be home when their wife is at work so that their kids have 24-hour child care, or perhaps they simply want their days free for other reasons. Either way, volunteers will always have more positive attitudes toward the night job than those assigned to it.

    - Pay a differential. Paying extra for night shifts will provide a powerful incentive.

    - Proper lighting in the working area. This will obviously never replace sunlight, but studies tell us that bright light can potentially increases alertness. This is particularly important between 4am and 7am, at the time when accident rates are highest.

    - Physical breaks. Provide the opportunity to take an exercise break. A quick game of table tennis or even a simple walk might ward off sleepiness.

    - Naptimes. Allow employees to close their eyes for just 15 minutes, mid-shift. But if it goes any longer than this, your crew could drop into a deep sleep that can make them less alert when they wake up.

    - Time off for family. Night shift workers have a daytime life just like everybody else, and letting them enjoy it will definitely pay dividends in morale. This usually translates to an increased productivity.