How to Protect Employees Working on the Night Shift

October 26, 2020
Caroline Preece

Working nights is a common reality for workers across a variety of industries and, while many prefer this way of working, it also comes with its fair share of downsides.

The benefits of working at night include travelling at times when the roads and public transport are less busy, having more personal time in afternoons and early evenings, and often higher rates of pay. But it can also mean harmful sleep patterns, a hit to the social life and, for employers, a host of health and safety issues to contend with.

In this article, we will cover how those working nights can be protected by employers from some of the most common hazards they face.

Who are night workers?

According to UK regulations, night workers are those who work at least three hours during the ‘night period’ of 11pm to 6am. This can vary slightly but must be agreed by the employee and employer. Those working ‘sleep-in’ shifts are also classed as night workers.

Though those working at night are not operating during ‘normal’ daytime hours, they are still not permitted to work more than an average of 8-hours during a 24-hour period. This is usually calculated over a period of 17-weeks.

A record of these hours must be recorded and kept for at least two years.

If a worker is exposed to specific hazards that can cause physical or mental strain as part of their role, there is a strict limit on them working more than 8-hours in a 24-hour period. To determine whether this applies, employers are legally required to perform a risk assessment. You can download our free lone worker risk assessment template if you have not done this.

There are exceptions to the limits placed on night workers, however, with roles not subject to them including those in the armed forces, emergency service workers, domestic staff employed to work in a private home, and those who can choose their own hours such as freelancers.

It was revealed by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 2019 that a record 3.2 million people across the UK regularly work at night, with the most common jobs including:

  • Care workers (432,000)
  • Nurses and midwives (232,000)
  • Road Transport Drivers (208,000)

Top 5 Dangers for Night Workers

Social hazards

One of the top hazards for night workers is other people. Though the term lone worker suggests that these employees will be working alone, more often than not, they will come into contact with members of the public. 

While social hazards should always factor into health and safety decisions, those operating at night are more at risk than those who work during more sociable hours.

It’s estimated that around 150 lone workers are attacked every day, and working during the night in secluded areas, without colleagues nearby and at times when assault and robberies are more likely to take place all contribute to a greater level of risk.

Loss of communication

Reliable lines of communication between a supervisor and an employee are always essential, but especially when it comes to lone workers operating at night. Without this contact, they are left far more vulnerable and - should something happen - less able to call for help. 

There are many reasons for an employer to temporarily lose contact with a worker, whether that’s poor signal, failing technology or something else. But in the interest of optimal safety for lone workers at night, safeguards must be put in place.

Mental wellbeing

Working at night can wreak havoc on someone’s mental health due to lack of sleep, restricted contact with loved ones, or even just working alone itself. We’re social animals even at work, so it’s essential to regularly check in with night workers to ensure their stress levels and sense of isolation don’t become an issue.

Even if limitations on time spent working at night don’t apply, employers must ensure that workers have a minimum of 90-hours of downtime per week. You should also offer them a free (optional) health assessment before they commence with their duties.

Road accidents

The third most common role for night workers is road transport workers, who spend extended periods of time out on the roads. This brings with it the inherent dangers of road accidents and breakdowns at times when it’s more difficult to summon assistance.

The number of hours workers spend driving also needs to be closely monitored.

Environmental hazards

The term ‘environmental hazards’ is the largest umbrella under which workplace health and safety issues sit. In basic terms, these are problems that occur because of the environment around the worker and, because they are external, they are theoretically much more straightforward to eliminate than social hazards.

Common environmental hazards for those working the night shift are messy spaces that cause a greater risk of slips, trips and falls, electrical equipment or machinery that isn’t regularly checked and maintained, and workers lifting and carrying heavy objects. A lack of PPE also comes under this category.

Best Safety Procedures for Working the Night Shift

As established, the number of people regularly working night shifts is at its highest level since records began, with a growth of 100,000 over the last five years. It is more important than ever for employers to offer good health and safety measures.

The key to building a fantastic health and safety policy for night workers is to combine actionable measures with a focus on mental wellbeing. To do this, you should consider:

  • Are employees working more than the maximum number of hours allowed?
  • If workers are at risk of physical violence or threat, have they been trained in basic self-defence and de-escalation tactics?
  • Do you have a way for workers to get in touch even in areas with a low mobile signal?
  • Do you have procedures in place for workers to raise any mental health issues they may be experiencing?
  • Do workers have all of the equipment and PPE they need to carry out their roles safely?
  • Is the area in which the employee works kept clean and tidy?

Though a lone worker policy that incorporates the answers to these questions will undoubtedly mitigate many of the risks that night workers face, it’s sadly the case that sometimes they just won’t be enough.

Under these circumstances, it’s important to go a step further and incorporate additional lone worker safety solutions into your plans. These can include two-way radios to maintain communication without relying on mobile phones, body-worn cameras to record incidents of violence, or lone worker alarms that can be used to raise an alert.

Lone worker alarms, especially, are a very effective way of keeping night workers safe.

Not only do they work well in areas of low signal, but they also allow employers to keep track of their workers’ locations and whether they are safe even without directly speaking with the employee themselves.

Not only does this save valuable time and energy, but it also allows vulnerable workers to raise an alarm discreetly if they are under duress. They also include Man Down sensors that can detect when a worker has fallen.

This protects an employer should they fall due to attack or even sudden illness. Either way, emergency services can be contacted.

How can we help?

It is an employer’s legal responsibility to do everything they can to protect the safety and wellbeing of their employees. Those working at night are subject to different pressures and dangers than their daytime counterparts, and so it is important to consider these when formulating health and safety plans.

If you would like to find out more about ways you can protect your night shift workers, or about lone worker protection more generally, you can speak with one of our experts by clicking here or giving us a call on 020 3820 1857.

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