Shift Work and Working Time Regulations – protect workers health
Guidance launched late 2012 on shift work by the Royal College of Nursing describes how it can negatively affects the overall health of workers. Not surprisingly, health workers are the focus of this guidance – although useful for any employer.
The RCN UK Safety Representatives Committee (UKSR), reported that shift work was becoming increasingly problematic for members.
“Many of the people entering the nursing profession are aware that shift work is an essential part of providing a comprehensive 24/7 service for patients, and some individuals will tolerate shift work better than others, “ said RCN UKSR Chair, Robert Moore. “The main risks are sleep deprivation, slower reactions due to fatigue, which may result in errors, and the impact on general health as you get older. But I am also concerned about what preparation or advice we give staff who have not been involved in shift work before.”
Also, under general health and safety rules, employers must provide policies and systems that promote healthy nursing work hours and patterns.
Employers also have duties under the Working Time Regulations to offer a health assessment to those who work at night. Remember though, the employee does not have to accept the offer or fill in a health questionnaire form. Offering the opportunity is the key point.
The system of offering a health assessment though is generally misunderstood. Some occupational health providers use the completed health questionnaire as a means of assessing whether someone is actually fit to work nights. They have not only done a health assessment, but also, forced workers to come off shift work because of perceived health risks.
In my mind, this is clearly not the purpose of the health assessment. I argue that the Working Time Regulations is for the worker alone and not a means of checking fitness for work; that is up to the individual worker. If the worker has a health problem, it is their opportunity to flag the situation in a legal way.
What to health checks to include in a Night Workers Health Assessment?
What is also interesting about the health assessment, is that no one has specified what the health assessment actually consist of. Some occupational health services have set up an appointment with an employee for the full works, e.g., blood pressure, cholesterol, height weight advice and urine sampling. Others have only offered a telephone consultation. This is one area of health checking where more clarification is needed and employees need to know exactly what will occur once they ‘sign up’ for this supposedly helpful health check.
Further Information and Resources
Night workers health check template and policy (registration required)