Shift Work Increases the Risk of Workplace Injury
Jun 25, 2020
The logistics industry is one that’s active at all hours of the day and night. To get a package from one place to another as efficiently as possible, hauliers must take advantage of every hour that they have available, and that means calling upon workers to come into work at night-time.
According to research from the Trade Union Coalition, more than three million people now work night shifts in the UK, accounting for around one in nine employees. Moreover, the average age of night-workers is climbing, with the number of night workers over fifty more than doubling over a five year period between 2013 and 2018.
Shift work confers an obvious immediate advantage: it allows the wheels of industry to keep turning ceaselessly. But what about the less obvious, long-term costs? Among these is a demonstrable increase in the risk of an injury. Given the availability of injury solicitors for claims, and the productivity costs that can result from an injury, employers should look to take steps to limit the risk among shift workers.
Quality sleep is essential to the function of the human body and mind. Sleep deprivation can result in poor concentration, and an inability to sustain focus consistently. Most of the time, this translates into a general decline in productivity. But when combined with other risk factors, it can also occasionally cause an accident.
Night shift workers tend to have limited access to healthy, nutritious meals. This has a whole slew of negative consequences for their long-term health. Often, it’s easier to pick up two cans of energy drink and a microwaveable pastry from the local service station than it is to bring a packed lunch. Where these terrible habits are widespread across an entire workforce, the result can be a lack of energy, poorer concentration, greater absenteeism, and more frequent accidents.
How to Control the Problem
There are a number of steps which might be taken to offset these risks. These should ideally be taken by the employer rather than the employee. After all, employees might feel pressured to make decisions that aren’t in their interests. They may, for example, volunteer for extra shifts out of a desire to be perceived as hard-working. By creating a culture of awareness of these problems, employers can limit the risk of a workplace injury.
The first step might be to limit the duration of shifts, and to keep the timing consistent over longer spans. Early shifts one week followed by later ones the following week might cause adjustment problems. If the shift patterns alternate every month, instead, then these adjustments will be less frequent.
Another step might be to grant more successive rest days, in order to give the employee a change to completely refocus before returning to work. The same principle might be applied to the shifts themselves, with more frequent breaks being offered. Employees should also have a quiet place to go during their breaks.
Popular techniques like the Pomodoro might form a basis for mental refocussing during work hours, but the demands of a given workplace might determine when breaks can be taken. For example, truck drivers can’t feasibly take breaks every twenty-five minutes. They can, however, be encouraged to make longer stops every few hours.
Finally, workplaces might invest in twenty-four-hour cafeteria facilities, where workers can pick up a hot meal at any point throughout their shift. An onsite gym might further incentivise physical activity, which is particularly crucial for sedentary workers like drivers and administrative staff, who constitute a significant portion of workers in the logistics industry.