Good practice guidelines

The best advice currently available regarding shift-work schedule design and the workplace environment is summarised below. These guidelines are general though and set out goals to aim for. They cover a wide range of factors that may or may not be relevant to your particular industry sector. Therefore it is necessary to use common sense when applying them. You will also need to balance the good practice guidelines with the operational concerns of your own business. [More detailed background information and explanation for these guidelines is provided in HSE's priced publication Managing Shift Work: Health and Safety Guidance, HSE Books 2006 ISBN 0 7176 6197 0]

Applying the good practice guidelines, so far as it is reasonably practicable to do so, will help reduce the risk that workers are exposed to by shift working.

Good practice guidelines for shift design

  • Plan an appropriate and varied workload.
  • Offer a choice of permanent or rotating shifts and try to avoid permanent night shifts.
  • Either rotate shifts every 2-3 days or every 3-4 weeks - otherwise adopt forward rotating shifts.
  • Avoid early morning starts and try to fit shift times in with the availability of public transport.
  • Limit shifts to 12 h including overtime, or to 8 h if they are night shifts and/or the work is demanding, monotonous, dangerous and/or safety critical.
  • Encourage workers to take regular breaks and allow some choice as to when they are taken.
  • Consider the needs of vulnerable workers, such as young or aging workers and new and expectant mothers.
  • Limit consecutive work days to a maximum of 5 - 7 days and restrict long shifts, night shifts and early morning shifts to 2-3 consecutive shifts.
  • Allow 2 nights full sleep when switching from day to night shifts and vice versa.
  • Build regular free weekends into the shift schedule.

Good practice guidelines for the work environment

  • Provide similar facilities as those available during daytime and allow shift workers time for training and development.
  • Ensure temperature & lighting is appropriate and preferably adjustable.
  • Provide training and information on the risks of shift work and ensure supervisors and management can recognise problems.
  • Consider increasing supervision during periods of low alertness.
  • Control overtime, shift swapping and on-call duties and discourage workers from taking second jobs.
  • Set standards and allow time for communication at shift handovers.
  • Encourage interaction between workers and provide a means of contact for lone workers.
  • Encourage workers to tell their GPs that they are shift workers and provide free health assessments for night workers.
  • Ensure the workplace and surroundings are well lit, safe and secure.

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