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02nd April 2015

Shift work health and safety management

Shift work health and safety managementShift work

A significant proportion of the workforce has done shift work at some stage. Employers have a duty of care to protect the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees, including those doing shift work. In addition, employers must ensure that others are not exposed to health and safety risks through their undertaking.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 (as amended) lay down the minimum legal requirements on how to organise working time. The employer must also comply with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (the HSW Act) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR).

Shift work illness

Many studies have shown that shift work and work at night have been linked to a wide range of health problems, including breast cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, pregnancy problems, prostate cancer, heart disease risk factors and heightened accident risk.

Examples of shift work:

  • work during the afternoon, night or weekend
  • periods of the work schedule outside standard daytime hours
  • extended work periods of 12 hours or more
  • a compressed working week
  • rotating hours of work
  • split shifts, where work periods are divided into two distinct parts, with several hours break in between; overtime
  • standby/on-call duties

Shift work can cause:

  • disruption of the internal body clock
  • sleeping difficulties
  • fatigue
  • reliance on sedatives and/or stimulants
  • disturbed appetite and digestion
  • social and domestic problems

Management of shift work

  • Develop policies and procedures for managing shift-working arrangements
  • Mount an awareness campaign on occupational health hazards, including the hazards of shift work
  • Appoint one or more individuals to take responsibility for managing the risks associated with shift work
  • Review rest breaks and ensure workers take the break, rather than eat while working, for example
  • Ensure employees do not work nights for two decades or more continuously
  • Avoid permanent (fixed or non-rotating) night shift
  • Involve safety representatives and workers
  • Keep consecutive night shifts to a minimum
  • Ensure there is adequate lighting, clean air, proper heat and air conditioning, and reduced noise
  • Undertake a risk assessment on the risks associated with shift work
  • Keep the schedule regular and predictable
  • Keep long work shifts and overtime to a minimum
  • Put controls in place to reduce the risks associated with shift work, such as limiting the shift’s duration and increasing rest breaks where the work is demanding
  • Consider different lengths for shifts
  • Examine start-end times and discuss with workers
  • Incorporate some free weekends to allow workers to relax
  • Avoid quick shift changes
  • Ensure shift and night workers do not work more than eight hours a shift where possible
  • Advise workers to eat a healthy diet, and provide information on healthy lifestyle choices

QCS policies

QCS has guidance and policies to support your service in meeting the requirements of health and safety management.


Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

The Management of Health and Safety at Work (Amendment) Regulations 2006

  • Finn Tüchsen, Karl Bang Christensen, Thomas Lund, and Helene Feveile. A 15 year prospective study of shift work and disability pension, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 65, pages 283–285, 2008.
  • Kenneth N Fortson. The diurnal pattern of on-the-job injuries, Monthly Labor Review, pages 18-25, September 2004.
  • Lisa A Pompeii others. Physical exertion at work and the risk of preterm delivery and small-for-gestational-age birth, Obstetrics & Gynaecology, volume 106, pages 1279-1288, 2005 [abstract].
  • Sarah Megdala and others. Night work and breast cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis, European Journal of Cancer, volume 41, issue 13, pages 2023-2032, 2005.
  • T Lahti and others. Night-time work predisposes to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, International Journal of Cancer, volume 123, pages 2148–2151, 2008.
  • Tatsuhiko Kubo and others. Prospective cohort study of the risk of prostate cancer among rotating-shift workers: Findings from the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study, American Journal of Epidemiology, volume 164, pages 549-555, 2006.
  • Y Fujino and others. A prospective cohort study of shift work and risk of ischemic heart disease in Japanese male workers, American Journal of Epidemiology, volume 164, pages 128-135, 2006.

Sally Beck RGN, BSc (Hons), MSc, CMIOSH – QCS Expert Health and Safety Contributor

Topics: Health & Safety

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