Shift work is essential within many industries and services, whether this is down to the need of a continuous production cycle, 24/7 services such as our own Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) or the demand faced by emergency service workers. While night-shift workers can be found across a range of different industries, they tend to face the same common risks and so it is vital that these are considered by employers.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that a night-shift worker is “someone who works outside of standard daytime hours, commonly for a period of between 7pm – 7am”, while the UK government defines night workers as those who regularly work at least 3 hours during this ‘night period. Additionally, employment advisory service ACAS, state that around 14% of the working population (3.6 million people) report that they work shifts ‘most of the time’- showing how common night working really is.
Various studies have shown that night shift workers are at a higher than average risk of both illness and injury, meaning it is important to understand the additional risks associated with working during the night time.
Research from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has shown that night shift workers are much more likely to experience fatigue than day workers, with 10-20% of workers having experienced involuntary sleep during their shift. A cause of this increased fatigue stems from the difficulties that night shift workers often face when trying to sleep during the day time. Naturally our bodies release cortisol during the day, with the highest levels in the morning and the lowest levels at night, as this is a hormone that helps us to wake up by boosting energy and hunger. Contrastingly, melatonin is released with highest levels at night and lowest levels in the morning, as this hormone helps our bodies to prepare for sleep. This means that when night shift workers are trying to sleep during the day time, it is likely that their bodies are still releasing cortisol which can disrupt sleep and make it harder to get the levels of rest required.
Fatigue becomes an increased issue when employees are completing dangerous tasks, as sleepiness can distort our abilities to perceive hazards and manage them safely, particularly as many night shift workers work with heavy or dangerous machinery, such as highway maintenance workers.
In order to avoid the risks caused by fatigue, it is important to encourage employees to ensure that they are getting the amount of sleep recommended by The National Sleep Foundation, which is currently 7-9 hours for adults. To improve sleep quality, it can be beneficial to invest in sleeping aids such as blackout curtains and to notify friends and family of your sleeping hours so they do not disturb you. It has also been proven that having an alternating shift pattern is better for employee’s wellbeing as it allows more opportunities for typical social activities and can help to reduce fatigue.
To minimise the risks while at work, employees should be encouraged to plan their time efficiently. When planning out the tasks that need to be completed within a shift, the most ‘risky’ tasks should be completed at the start of a shift. This time is likely to be when the employee is most alert and awake, while also being the time that other people may be around, providing more immediate help in the event of an incident.
When starting or finishing a night shift it is likely that employees will have to travel in the dark, particularly in the winter months where nights are longer and days are shorter. Travelling alone in the dark can put workers at a high level of risk as there are often fewer people around that would be able to help in the event of an emergency, and it is more difficult to identify potential hazards compared to if it were light. Driving to work and parking closely to your workplace is the safest option, as this allows for little interaction with others and means that workers have the shortest distance to travel once arriving at their workplace.
If it is necessary that you walk alone in the dark, stick to well-lit areas such as roads with street lights and stay alert at all times. Avoid distractions such as headphones as these could hinder your hearing, allowing a potential attacker to sneak up on you. It is also recommended to wear appropriate clothing that avoids drawing attraction to yourself, such as by wearing limited jewellery and sensible footwear that would allow you to get away quickly in an emergency. Telling a friend, family member or colleague the time you’re expected to arrive either at work or back at home will mean that this person will be expecting you to let them know when you arrive safely. Therefore, if you didn’t arrive home within the expected timeframe, they would be able to escalate the situation on your behalf.
As fewer people tend to be out and about during the night, it is not surprising that this is when crime rates tend to be the highest. The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) found that more than half of violent incidents (54%) occurred in the evening or during the night, in this case ranging from 6pm-6am. Although all types of crime have higher rates during the night, it is advisable that employees are made aware of the times that they are most at risk within their own role, for example as crimes within shops are most likely to occur in the early evening from 3pm-6pm, while 59% of sexual assaults occur at night time, putting employees who travel alone at a particularly high risk. When working at night it is therefore recommended that employees take extra precautions, such as by securing their working site if possible so that members of the public cannot gain access and by introducing a buddy system so that workers are not isolated where possible.
In order to minimise the likelihood of a crime occurring, it is important that employees are trained on the risks that they face while working at night within their particular sector, and how they should handle a situation if one was to occur. Employees could also be provided with a personal safety device that is able to raise an alarm in the event of an emergency. Having a method available to discreetly call for help will allow workers to call for help from the emergency services if required, without alerting the aggressor, which can often make the situation worse. Implementing duress codes can also be a useful safety procedure as this allows for employees to express the help that they need, without the aggressor knowing.
According to health and safety legislation, it is the employer’s duty to assess all risks to the health and safety of their employees.
Peoplesafe can help employers to fulfil their duty of care by implementing a personal safety service. We offer solutions ranging from a variety of dedicated personal safety devices to a simple addition to the employee’s mobile phone, giving you the flexibility to find a service best suited to your needs.
Additionally, all of our devices are portable and can be paired with several accessories to transform them into a piece of discrete wearable technology, such as via a belt clip or pendant holder. This allows users to carry their alarm on them at all times while working without any hassle so that it is readily available in the event of an emergency.
When an alarm is raised, an alert is sent directly to our Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), where our expertly trained Controllers will be able to listen to the ongoing situation through the device. The Controller will listen carefully to ensure that it is safe to communicate with the user while simultaneously assessing the situation. If the Controller feels that it is safe to talk, they will establish contact with the user in order to diffuse the situation and follow the necessary procedure. If they do not receive a response from the user after attempting to communicate with them, they will follow the pre-determined escalation procedure to resolve the alarm.
Having a Peoplesafe device means that your employees can quickly and easily summon help from colleagues or the emergency services, while giving them the peace of mind that allows them to complete their job safely.
If you have any employees that you feel could benefit from our lone worker services, please contact our sales team on 0800 990 3563 or complete the contact us form here.