2 min read

10 tips to manage the risks of shift work

By Joanna Weekes

Depending on your business, it may be necessary to have some or all of your staff engaged in shift work, especially in industries such as hospitality, transport and logistics.

Shift work involves rostering workers throughout a 24-hour period (e.g. 8-hour shifts to cover the morning, afternoon and night) and/or giving workers extended shifts (e.g. 12-hour shifts).

Shift work can pose significant health and safety risks as well as organisational risks that you need to manage.

Your obligation to minimise the risks associated with shift work stems from your general duty to provide safe systems of work and a safe working environment for all your workers.

You should take every reasonably practicable step to reduce the risks for shift workers, both while they are at work, and while travelling to and from work.

It’s important to give shift workers sufficient breaks during their shifts and scheduled days off so they have adequate time to rest and recover. What health and safety risks are associated with shift work?

Shift work can have negative effects on a person’s health. For instance, working at night and sleeping during the day can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the body’s natural cycles that control a person’s appetite, sleep, mood and energy level.

Interfering with a person’s circadian rhythms can result in:

  • Stress;
  • Fatigue;
  • Depression;
  • Headaches;
  • High blood pressure; and
  • An increased risk of developing stomach ulcers and heart disease.

Shift work also has organisational risks
Workers are at their least competent and watchful at the end of a shift.

Fatigued workers are more likely to make mistakes and to have poor concentration and response times.

Workers at the end of a long shift who are responsible for part of a worksite might:

  • Leave the workplace in an untidy and dangerous way;
  • Fail to conduct proper handover for the next worker about to begin their shift;
  • Neglect to properly carry out a safety process; and
  • Fail to identify safety risks for themselves and other workers.

10 tips for managing shift work

Follow these 10 tips to effectively manage shift workers:

  • Ensure that a worker’s work cycle includes no more than six consecutive 8-hour shifts or four consecutive 12-hour shifts.
  • Keep night work to a minimum. Workers should be given as few night shifts in a row as possible.
  • Make shifts shorter when the work is particularly hazardous or exhausting.
  • Ensure that workers who work 12-hour shifts or night shifts do not regularly work overtime.
  • Ensure that workers rarely work more than 7 days in a row.
  • If possible, keep workers’ shift cycles consistent.
  • Give adequate notice of roster changes.
  • Ensure that workers have sufficient breaks during their shifts, particularly for those working long shifts and undertaking high-risk work.
  • Give workers adequate time between the end of one shift and the start of another to rest and recuperate.
  • Have a handover policy in place to ensure effective handover for the next worker.

For more information about how to reduce the risks for shift workers, refer to chapter S6 Shift Work in your Health & Safety Handbook.

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