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On The Night Shift

by msecadm4921

Given the shift in society towards a 24-hour economy, security and control room staff plus the police and other service industry workers, face more night and shift work.

Given the shift in society towards a 24-hour economy, security and control room staff plus the police and other service industry workers, face more night and shift work. Inconsiderate employers who draw up rotas without taking into account what staff want could find themselves with a disgruntled, under-achieving workforce – never mind the health problems associated with shift work (see right). And then there?s the Working Time Directive. You can square the circle, a consultancy argues – satisfying your staff and getting the job done.

More than 90 per cent of the security staff at Newcastle Airport voted for new shift patterns after managers brought in consultants Workplace Systems. The security management had to provide continual cover while not forgetting staff welfare. The consultants? software, WorkPlan, came up with several shift arrnagements, allowing the security team to move from four-crews to five. Making a roster manually using the old spreadsheet methods would be too complex and time-consuming, the consultants argue. Contractural hours were reduced. Staff got regular four-day rest periods throughout the winter; three 16-day rest periods throughout the summer; and a reduction from seven to six consecutive shifts. The win-win in this situation extended to managers, who had to spend less time on shift administration. Workplace Systems provided this case study to the September annual conference of AUCSO (Association of University Chief Security Officers) – one security sector where staff have as much on their hands at 9pm as 9am. Think in terms of hours per year, not hours per week, the consultants stress – an employee?s 40 hours a week adds up to 2,087 hours a year, which becomes 1,703 when you take away 28 days? holidays, five days? training, 10 days? sickness and 40 hours of ?unplanned demands?.

Reasons for change

Since the 1980s, the UK has seen ever greater take-up of annualised hours, the consultants say. Their blueprint? There is no blueprint. Create a win-win for both sides of the industrial relations fence; keep it simple and transparent, and equal for all; plan ahead; and there should be work only when there is a task to do. Why make the change? Because demand for a site?s security staff is seasonal (the university sector being a good example) and unpredictable. Common objections are those aired against any change, such as fear of loss of overtime earnings. A new rota system may fail if planning is poor, or staff objections are not dealt with, or if there is not enough communication. Therefore, managers seeking to bring in annual hours should carry out a feasibility study (to learn when demand for staff is in fact highest and lowest), and look at the options – which shift patterns would work best. Bound up with the production of an annual roster is a look at terms and conditions – for the starter and leaver and transferee; training; and disciplinary procedures. Above all, the manager ought to consult and review. The benefits, the consultants say, are (for managers) more stable and lower labour costs, better morale and lower absenses through ?sickness?; and (for staff) more stable employment, and no more ?boom or bust? wages. The consultants see an end to overtime as among the cultural benefits, though the company can always ?buy back? a number of the employee?s reserve hours as a form of managed overtime during peak times. Such a switch in shift patterns can come hand in hand with multi-skilling and more team-working.

Making night-work more tolerable will take more than simply delivering health advice booklets to staff, Health and Safety Executive research suggests. Researchers looked at Lothian and Borders police officers doing shiftwork. That force rejigged its shift patterns ?to match manning more closely to customer demands? – peaking in the evenings, at weekends, and especially on weekend-evenings, and gave officers a self-help guide to shift-work in 1999. It made little difference to already well-developed eating, sleeping and exercise habits, however. The advice covered sleep (block out noise and light); eating (such as cutting down on caffeine, alcohol and smoking; avoid big meals and fats, red meat and spicy foods); exercise (try jogging) and domestic (consider a childminder, make plans with family and friends). However, the study found a culture of having a drink to wind down after a shift; and as for exercise, whereas the guide encouraged exercise such as cycling to work rather than taking the car, officers said they lacked time. Most in the study felt that shiftwork causes such disruption that more sleep is required, and that quality and amount of family time was poor. Researchers point out that shiftwork can lead health problems – ?gastrointestinal disease, cardiovascular problems and psychoneurotic disturbance?.
Shiftwork: An intervention using a self-help guide to improve the coping behaviour of nightshift workers and its evaluation, by Professor Zander Wedderburn. (Health and Safety Executive and Heriot-Watt University, HSE Books, 2001. ISBN 071762093X , œ15. Contract research report 365/2001, downloadable free on the HSE website at:

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