There are certain regulations that apply to employees who work at night. These apply to all employees be they permanent members of staff or casual workers.
The regulations define night time as the period between 23.00 and 06.00 although this agreement can be slightly varied between employers and workers. A ‘night worker’ is classed as someone who works for at least 3 hours during this period.
Generally, night workers:
- Should not work more than 8 hours in any 24 hour period, averaged over 17 weeks
- Cannot opt-out of from this limit unless it is allowed for by a collective workforce agreement, although in some cases you can average night work over a 26 week period
- Must be offered a free health assessment before they begin night work duties and on a regular basis after that
For some workers – those Working with Hazards or under mental or physical strain – there can be no averaging at all – the 8 hour limit must be strictly adhered to.
In general, workers under 18 are not permitted to work nights, although there are quite a number of exceptions to this rule and you can find out more from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
It is an employer’s duty to comply with the night work regulations. They should keep records to ensure workers do not exceed their night working limit along with records of their employees’ health assessments for 2 years or, if they didn’t take up that offer, you should record the date the offer was made.
How to Adapt to Working at Night
A human’s body clock was designed to be awake during daylight hours and to sleep at night and many night workers have experienced difficulty in adapting to the changes in working at night and sleeping during the day. There are no clear solutions to this problem but some good tips include:
- Adapting to your new time frame as quickly as possible by timing meals and other activities to match the new ‘day’.
- Exercise can often sort out body rhythms. You could try starting your new ‘day’ with a brisk jog or by cycling. This may mean doing your exercise at 10 o’clock at night when most people are start thinking about getting ready to go to bed but it has proven to have been beneficial for many night shift workers.
- Although not always possible, studies have shown that a short nap in the middle of a night shift can help maintain or improve performance later on in the shift. Perhaps, you could consider this during your longest rest break within your shift.
- One of the most common complaints about adjusting to night shift work is the difficulty some people find in sleeping during the day. It is just as important to try and create the same relaxing environment as you would normally do if you were sleeping at night. Your room should be well ventilated and not too hot. It should be as quiet as it would be at night so if you have a family, they should consider your needs sympathetically. If need be, you should install black-out window blinds so that your bedroom is as dark as possible and consider ear plugs and sleeping masks for your eyes, such as those you might get offered on a plane.
- When eating on the night shift, choose smaller portions rather than a heavier meal which can make you feel tired and sluggish and can sometimes cause heartburn and try to avoid late night caffeine as this can have an adverse effect when you get home in the morning and are trying to get to sleep.
It can often be extremely difficult to survive the night shift, especially if you work day shifts too and have to switch between the two on your rota and working nights can have a big impact on your health, both physically and emotionally. However, if you can adopt a routine, still get enough quality sleep, eat the right foods, maintain social ties, and keep physically active – most people find that they can usually adapt well to working the ‘graveyard’ shift.