Preventing sickness absence in shift workers


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influenza-156098_640Contrary to previous research, shift workers take less paid sickness absence than day workers, according to a study of 20,000 employees across 14 different occupational groups. This Canadian analysis reported that there were no differences in the length of the sickness absence between both groups, or in sickness absence taken by female and male workers whether working days of shifts. Job tenure, the presence of a union in the workplace and working rotating shifts predicted sickness absence in shift workers. Consequently, the report stated that consideration should be given to implementing scheduled time off between shift changes.

Rotational shifts simply means that employees will change their hours of work across several work patterns/work blocks on regular/pre-determined basis. Rotational shift patterns are increasingly becoming the norm and can directly address some of the key issues that derive from permanent night shift working for example. The range of options available are many and varied ranging from 8hr and 12hr patterns, slow and fast rotating patterns, forward and backward rotating patterns and Gross and Net hours patterns (holidays on request vs holidays rostered into the pattern) to name a few.

Some of the benefits include:

  • Lower levels of risk and fatigue by comparison to a permanent night shifts for example
  • Increased flexibility to introduce seasonal shift patterns and react to changing patterns of demand

However, not everyone can easily adjust to rotational systems, the impact of which can be high levels of fatigue subsequently leading to such symptoms as poor attendance, motivation, morale and performance.

Finding an appropriate shift-pattern which matches the specific needs of the organisation is critical. There are many conventional shift-patterns which industry utilises, but as businesses grow and customer demands change, many organisations find tailored shift patterns are more appropriate. Working Time Solutions Ltd have worked with a diverse range of organisationsadvising them on the most efficient shift pattern to meet both business need and the preference of the workforce. By altering key variables including shift length, team sizes, minimum and maximum consecutive shifts or rest days and preferred shift rotation, all kinds of scenarios can be explored in ‘What if?’ mode, based on the underlying need for labour.

Good practice when designing shift patterns:

  • Rotate shifts every 2-3 days or every 3-4 weeks, otherwise adopt forward rotating shifts
  • Limit consecutive work days to between five and seven days
  • Restrict long shifts, night shifts and early morning shifts to two and three consecutive shifts
  • Allow two nights full sleep when switching between day and night shifts
  • Use tools such as the HSE Fatigue Risk Indicator tool to help compare different shift patterns and their associated risk and fatigue levels

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