Night shifts: Can you make them better for workers?

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One in eight of the UK’s workforce now regularly works at night while the rest of the country is sound asleep.

In our 24/7 world, many businesses couldn’t function properly without night shifts (a night shift is officially recognised as at least three hours between 11pm and 6am). Sectors like manufacturing and industrial, healthcare, hospitality and transport, for example, are among the heaviest users.

For staff, putting in these kinds of hours is a way to earn more money for fewer hours work, and can be flexible to fit with other commitments.

But working at night has a greater impact on health and wellbeing than a day shift. As well as a negative impact on family and social life, disruption to the body clock and disturbed appetite and digestion, long-term night work has been linked to increased chances of:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Type-2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Depression

Plus there’s a greater chance of injuries and accidents as tired workers are more likely to make mistakes.

If your business relies on round-the-clock shift work, how can you mitigate the risks? We run through three questions to help you make a positive impact to your nocturnal workforce.

Are you rotating shifts?

It used to be considered OK for workers to be on permanent night shift, but now experts agree that rotating shifts is healthier.

According to research by the Health and Safety Executive, the best option is to rotate shifts every two to three days. The second best? Altering shifts after three weeks or more. It’s now thought that changing shifts every week or fortnight doesn’t give the body long enough to adapt to a new pattern.

Do you have a night working policy?

Employee groups are worried that not enough businesses have official policies that deal with night shift working. ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) recommends that businesses that rely on night workers have a clear shift-management policy in place, ideally with designated staff taking responsibility for it.

Better still, it’s a good idea to involve night workers in assessing any risks they’re under - and collaborate on any changes that need to be made to the policy. This might mean taking steps to limit the length of shifts, making sure that demanding or dangerous work isn’t done at night, and letting workers have enough recovery time between night shifts.

It’s important to bear in mind that when it comes to night workers, adhering to working time regulations means that night workers shouldn’t work more than eight hours in any 24-hour period.

Are you promoting good health?

As we’ve seen above, there are increased health risks associated with night working. But according to ACAS, raising awareness about maintaining an active lifestyle and watching out for early danger signs of health problems could mitigate the risk of night working.

As an employer, you must offer workers a free health assessment before they take on night shifts. They don’t have to accept, but it’s an important step in ensuring they’re fit for the work.

Think about other steps you could take to make it easier for night workers to stay healthy, active - and in shape. For example, giving night workers the same things day workers enjoy, like access to a cafe and hot meals and drinks. And as night workers are more likely to eat high-fat foods, consider stocking healthier options in vending machines, which are notorious for selling fatty, sugary options.

As we know at HR GO, even small changes employers can put into practice can make a huge difference. So if night shift workers are a fundamental part of your workforce, making a positive impact to their health and wellbeing will pay dividends all round.


Find guidance on how to organise shift work in ACAS’ free PDF, available to download here.

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