- Nov 27 2014
Certain jobs have always been done at night, whether out of convenience or necessity, from factory employees to security guards and sanitation workers. In today’s globalized workplace, as more and more businesses compete across multiple time zones and with multi-national companies, the types of nightshift work expands. As additional positions, such as computer programmers to financial advisors, require around the clock hours, an increasing number of employees are exposed to the risks associated with working at night. According to consultant Dave Rebbitt, there is a solution: focus on employee well-being.
“Human beings are not naturally built to work nights,” says Rebbitt. Biologically, our bodies are designed to feel sleepy when there is less light. Over time, due to habit and necessity, workers have adapted to the rigors of the nightshift. However, one in every five people will be physically unable to adjust to these hours. With this in mind, it is essential to conduct thorough interviews to determine if new or transferred employees can handle the change. Providing ample time to adjust to new schedules and closely monitoring employees for a period of time, are key to successful integration.
Once workers join the nightshift, it behooves both employees and employers to maintain a regular schedule, according to Rebbitt. Changing often between day and night shifts can take a heavy toll on alertness, safety and productivity. Intense fatigue greatly elevates both risk of an accident and physical stress on workers.
The dangers of fatigue don’t end when a worker is off the clock. Studies show that sleepiness impairs driver reaction time and the ability to drive in a straight line and control the speed of a vehicle. To avoid traffic accidents when employees leave the workplace, Rebbitt recommends providing transportation options, shortening shifts or offering employees the opportunity to take a nap before heading home.
Beyond physical safety, promoting overall employee Quality of Life also includes psychological well-being. Given their unconventional hours, many night shift workers have opposite schedules from their family and friends. In addition, according to Rebbit, while a typical factory may have 500 workers during the day, the overnight workforce could drop to less than 50 workers. Having significantly fewer coworkers and fewer opportunities to socialize outside of work can result in employees feeling isolated.
“It isn’t easy, but employers need to provide the same kind of social activities and interactions for night shift workers as they do for day shift workers,” says Rebbitt.
“Without the proper structures in place, employees can experience loneliness or even depression.”
The daily risks that night shift employees face range from minor injuries to equipment damage, but Ribbitt also references headline makers such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and Chernobyl nuclear disaster as results of poorly managed night shift conditions.
“When companies focus solely on getting things done or getting an operation moving, they lose sight of their people or really getting things done safely,” he says. “And this can open the door to a wide range of potential risks.”
Read more about the health risks and solutions associated with working the night shift in Shift work takes a toll on workers health
While night shift workers keep the world spinning when the lights go out, they also face a multitude of increased risk factors that impact their safety and well-being. What can be done to address these issues and maintain their Quality of Life?
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