The UK Working Time Regulations (1998) states that night time working hours are usually between 11pm and 6am. It states that the night time period must be 7 hours long and include the period between midnight and 5am. Staff who regularly work for at least 3 hours during this period are usually deemed night workers.
Night work can have an adverse effect on health in some cases, and can aggravate some underlying health conditions. Fatigue is one of the main symptoms of working night shifts, especially if the individual finds it difficult to sleep during the day. This can lead to difficulty in concentrating, slower reaction times and slower mental processing. Studies have shown that there is an increased risk of injury or accidents on night shifts as opposed to day shifts. Digestive problems, such as heartburn or a change in bowel habit, are also commonly described by night workers. This may be due to the change in eating patterns and may be aggravated by unsuitable food taken in unsuitable quantities at unsuitable times.
There are some medical conditions, which for some individuals, may be aggravated by night work. There are very few, if any, health conditions that absolutely rule out night work. It is more often the treatment for a medical condition which needs consideration, especially if it needs to be taken at a certain time or has significant side effects such as drowsiness. Where there is a medical problem, it is often possible for the person to work during night hours with suitable modifications to their treatment regime for example. Some health conditions that may be affected by night work include diabetes; epilepsy; some respiratory conditions; depression and anxiety; and conditions where medication needs to be taken at strict intervals to avoid destablising the condition or causing other problems.
The Regulations state that night workers should be offered a free health assessment prior to working nights and at regular intervals after that. This can be done initially by questionnaire, and if any concerns are identified, a more detailed occupational health assessment can be conducted by an occupational health nurse. If an employee’s health is significantly affected by night work, employees may need to be offered adjustments or suitable other work where possible.
There are a number of actions that can be taken to reduce the risks to health associated with night work. The BBC Health website www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sleep/ has very comprehensive information, assessment tools and interactive activities to enable you to better understand the science of sleep, your personal needs and strategies for good sleep. For an informal chat about your night workers, please call us today