Does nightshift working pose a danger to the health of employees?
Almost everyone is aware of the benefits of a good night’s sleep, with 8-10 hours a night being extolled as providing the most advantages. A good night’s sleep helps the body and the brain recover and a lack of sleep can have an adverse effect upon an employee’s ability to perform to the required standards.
There has been significant research undertaken into the effects which an irregular sleep pattern has upon individuals with varying findings however a recent finding by a professor at Oxford University has indicated that the effects of such could be much worse than previously thought. The research suggests that the human body does not ever adapt to an irregular sleep pattern and places an increased focus on the health risks which nightshift working can pose.
It is undoubtedly the case that a significant proportion of British industry relies upon nightshift working. Nightshift working can be undertaken as a mainstay requirement for 24/7 operations as in emergency services or manufacturing but it can also be implemented as a seasonal requirement within businesses who have peaks at certain times in the year. The commercial benefits to nightshift working are often obvious but as the new research suggests, the disadvantages to employees are not so. It is understood that nightshift working can place employees at a higher risk of adverse health conditions including premature death but there has also been an understanding that such risks can be appropriately managed.
The Working Time Regulations 1998 do seek to offer employees appropriate protection from the disadvantages of too much work whether this be specifically in relation to nightshift working or working generally and they place employers under an obligation to offer regular free health assessments to nightshift workers. Employers should adhere to the provisions of the legislation as a minimum but what if an employer believes that it should implement further measures to protect the health of its employees?
Employers do have a duty of care towards employees and so if it is considered that any aspect of an employee’s work life is having a negative impact upon an employee’s health then they should take appropriate steps to manage the situation. Where an employer has concerns it should meet with an employee to discuss them in further detail and to explore what measures could be put in place in order to alleviate the problem. Employers should consider going over and above their obligations under the Working Time Regulations if it is felt that this is necessary and look at putting in place a work/review plan accordingly.
An employer should take their obligations in this regard seriously not least because new sentencing guidelines that will allow the prosecution of employers is expected to be introduced during this final quarter of 2015. The guidelines will allow employers to be prosecuted for a health and safety offence when an employee has an accident as a result of an employer’s failure to consider risks (including those resulting from nightshift working) to an employee during the course of their work.
In order to place itself in the best position possible an employer should consider introducing a policy which addresses working time and its position on the negative health effects of nightshift working. Employers should review their risk assessment documentation and undertake regular reviews with all staff to address any concerns which either party to the employment relationship may have: this being particularly important when an employee shows signs of fatigue.