Keeping workers safe during extended and night shifts

Some work, particularly on roads and other types of infrastructure, can only be done during periods of light use. This means that employees will often have to work late or show up for night shifts. There are a number of hazards that are unique to working at night or that result from spending extra time on the job. Employers should make sure that their workers are well-rested and ready to tackle a night shift.

Breaks and meals
The Department of Labor (DOL) estimates that it can take as many as 10 days for a person's body to become accustomed to sleeping during the day and being awake all night. Even after becoming used to a reversed schedule, people can find themselves easily falling out of the cycle they need to maintain to work at night. As a result, it's easy for workers to become fatigued earlier in a shift than they would during regular daytime hours.

In addition to lunch or dinner times and regular breaks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests giving employees more frequent breaks to rest when working a night shift. The use of quick "micro" breaks to change positions, shift concentration, and move around a little should be encouraged.

Staffing and monitoring
In addition to providing opportunities to rest, supervisors need to keep a close eye on workers at night and during extended hours. Whether they're used to the schedule or not, employees can find themselves showing signs of fatigue. Symptoms to watch out for include:

• Irritability
• Lack of motivation
• Weariness
• Sleepiness
• Depression
• Lack of concentration
• Trouble with memory
• Giddiness
• Headaches
• Loss of appetite

Should these symptoms be noticed, the employee should be evaluated and possibly relieved from his position and given a chance to rest.

Hazard exposure
Working long shifts often means that employees may be exposed to hazardous materials that exceed standards. Employers should monitor and limit exposure to maintain health standards. This can be accomplished by limiting the time that employees remain at a worksite, providing clean locations for resting, and placing break areas well upwind from contaminated worksites.

In a perfect world, all projects could be completed on time during normal work hours. Unfortunately, projects can exceed their budgets for time and resources, and employers must call upon workers to put in overtime. Be sure to keep employees safe by offering frequent breaks, the proper safety products, supervision that checks for fatigue, and safe places to rest.

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