Key Issues To Consider

Information taken from the BITC wellbeing toolkit – Sleep & Recovery

The evidence shows that sleep matters to us as individuals, but it also matters to businesses. Employees suffering from poor sleep can lead to mistakes and accidents, as well as poor interactions with colleagues and customers and poor overall dynamics within a team. As a result of poor sleep it is estimated to cost the UK economy over £30bn a year.

Employers have a legal and moral responsibility for staff health and wellbeing.  

Key issues to consider are:

The importance of good job design – A job that is well designed enables an employee to accomplish what is required of them in a safe and healthy manner and therefore reduce physical and psychological strain

Shift work – Shift work can take a toll on employees’ minds and bodies. Shift workers are at increased risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and gastrointestinal diseases. Although the link between disrupted sleep patterns and the increased risk of disease has not been proven, employers should recognise the duty of care they owe to shift workers. Shift workers are also at increased risk of fatigue, which in turn elevates the possibility of errors, accidents and injuries. The risk is found to be higher on night shifts and rises with increasing shift lengths over eight hours, across successive shifts and when there are not enough breaks.

HSE guidance on shift work includes:

  • Plan an appropriate and varied workload
  • Offer a choice of permanent or rotating shifts and try to avoid permanent night shifts
  • Either rotate shifts every two to three days or every three to four weeks – otherwise adopt forward rotating shifts
  • Avoid early morning starts and try to fit shift times in with the availability of public transport
  • Limit shifts to 12 hours including overtime, or to eight hours if they are night shifts and/or the work is demanding, monotonous, dangerous and/or safety-critical
  • Encourage workers to take regular breaks and allow some choice as to when they are taken
  • Consider the needs of vulnerable workers, such as young or ageing workers and new and expectant mothers
  • Limit consecutive work days to a maximum of five to seven days and restrict long shifts, night shifts and early morning shifts to two to three consecutive shifts
  • Allow two nights of full sleep when switching from day to night shifts and vice versa
  • Build regular free weekends into the shift schedule
  • Consider increasing supervision during periods of low alertness
  • Control overtime, shift swapping and on-call duties and discourage workers from taking second jobs

Minimise the effects of Jet Lag

Jet lag is one of the most common issues impacting sleep. Typical consequences of jet lag include disturbed sleep, decreased alertness, general malaise and impaired daytime function. In addition, gastrointestinal distress is common and occurs when travellers eat at irregular hours.

Minimising the effects of Jet Lag – encourage employees to do the following:

  • Select a flight that allows early evening arrival and stay up until 10 pm local time
  • If the employee must sleep during the day, take a short nap in the early afternoon, but no longer than two hours, setting an alarm to be sure not to oversleep
  • Anticipate the time change for trips by getting up and going to bed earlier several days prior to an eastward trip and later for a westward trip
  • Upon boarding the plane, change your watch to the destination time zone
  • Avoid alcohol or caffeine at least three to four hours before bedtime, because both act as stimulants and prevent sleep
  • Upon arrival at a destination, avoid heavy meals
  • Bring earplugs and blindfolds to help dampen noise and block out unwanted light while sleeping
  • Try to get outside in the sunlight whenever possible because daylight is a powerful stimulant for regulating the biological clock, while staying indoors worsens jet lag
  • Although it is always important to eat healthily, the type of foods we eat have no effect on minimising jet lag
  • If you are only ‘in country’ for a short time, it might be easier on your body to avoid adjusting to the new time zone

Driving and Road Safety

Managing the risk of fatigue and sleep deprivation for employees who drive can save lives. Driver fatigue is a serious problem that results in thousands of serious injuries and deaths on Britain’s roads every year. It is estimated that fatigue may be a factor in up to 20 per cent of all road accidents and up to a quarter of fatal and serious accidents. Long working hours, irregular shifts, work schedules and night driving are factors that increase crash risk. Business drivers with high work-related mileage have over 50 per cent more injury accidents than non-business road drivers as they are more likely to drive in fatiguing situations, undertaking long journeys, under time pressure and after long working hours.

Safe Driving – measures to reduce this risk are:

  • Working practices, journey schedules, appointments and routes should enable drivers to stay within the law
  • Employers are legally required to consult with employees on health and safety issues
  • Work patterns should allow for a minimum of between seven and eight consecutive hours of sleep in each 24-hour period
  • Foster a culture that encourages drivers to acknowledge when they are fatigued and should not drive
  • Provide training on the importance of sleep and recovery to employees who drive at work for significant periods of time
  • Signpost all employees to information about sleep and recovery
  • Understand driver fatigue risk factors (both at-work and non-work)
  • Make sure there are enough drivers to cover work schedules while maintaining required safety standards
  • Ensure vehicles are well maintained, which reduces risk of breakdowns and delays
  • Maintenance should include the environment within the driver’s area and cabin

Be aware of drivers who swap shifts among themselves and the impact this can have on working hours