Shift work

Information and guidance on how to manage shift work to minimise the risks to health for employees

Improving management and health in shift working

As a manager, when implementing a successful shift pattern, it is important to engage your workforce. All workers can offer vital experience and knowledge to overcome many of the impacts and effects of shift working. They will have opinions on:

  • the duration of shifts
  • shift rotation
  • breaks and rest periods
  • work tasks
  • environment and welfare facilities
  • level of supervision and support

If you empower workers to have control of their working patterns, you will see positive impacts on morale and productivity. Assisting workers in choosing their own schedules and, or, swapping work periods with others may have a positive impact on:

  • the interaction between the individual's personal and professional life
  • improving social and family time
  • reducing commuting time
  • improving team working
  • morale
  • organisational loyalty

Fatigue and shift schedules

Planning shift patterns well in advance will help:

  • reduce the effects of fatigue in the workforce
  • workers balance their family and social lives
  • balance any medication needs

This can help develop a more stable body clock and help your workers maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Employers can also consider:

  • having a more regular work schedule
  • setting start and finish times for shift work
  • clearly outlining rest breaks within the shift
  • being mindful of local transport availability when arranging shifts
  • creating local shift systems to align with local transport infrastructure
  • identifying days off patterns following shifts
  • plan ahead to give staff good notice of their shift patterns
  • try to give as much notice as possible of shift work changes

Health and wellbeing in shift working

When selecting shift workers, employers should consider if the individuals are both physically and mentally suited to the work activity.

Depending on the activity, you should ensure you have the correct:

  • number of suitable/experienced staff
  • supervision

The physical environment can also contribute to a worker's experience. Be mindful of factors, such as:

  • lighting
  • noise
  • heat
  • vibration
  • weather

Employers must offer night workers a free health assessment (the worker does not have to accept the offer).

As an employer, you should consider whether a worker returning to work after illness and absence should return to a dayshift pattern as part of their rehabilitation until they are fit to return to shift work.

You can find out more about how to manage shift work on the Health and Safety Executive website.

Personal safety and shift working

Shift workers who

  • work or travel alone
  • travel at night or in the early morning

may be more vulnerable to violence or harassment.

Good practice involves taking steps to minimise any risk of such situations, providing guidance, or a safe travel to work policy to address personal safety. Consider:

  • designing shift start and end times around the availability of public transport
  • encourage employees when waiting for trains/buses to stand in well-lit places near other commuters
  • providing transport to and from work (a minibus scheme)
  • providing local public transport timetables to workers
  • negotiating a contract with a taxi firm
  • providing secure, well-lit car, and bike, parking facilities
  • encourage car sharing

You could provide staff with:

  • personal safety at work guidance
  • guidance on personal safety whilst commuting
  • a clear list of their responsibilities e.g. car safety checks
  • access to telephones and regular contact especially for lone workers during shifts

You can find out more about what you can do to help personal safety in your workplace on the Suzi Lamplugh Trust website.