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How to ensure the safety of your workforce in peak periods

No matter what industry you work in, there are likely to be seasonal fluctuations that see activity ramp up, requiring more staff coming on board. While these times certainly can be good for business, they bring a new set of challenges. Employers need to consider how longer working hours, night shifts and untrained new staff may affect their on-hired workforce.

Typically, greater exposure to long periods of continuous work, consecutive shifts and night shifts, can lead to fatigue and undermine the health and safety of your on-hired workforce if correct safety precautions are not taken.

For on-hired staff who are working long or late shifts in manufacturing, warehouse or hospitality settings, additional care should be taken to ensure their safety and wellbeing. This doesn’t just increase their safety, but also keeps morale and productivity high amongst your team, so that your business can work effectively through the busy period.

So whether you’re managing a team of grape-pickers during the busy vintage period, or else warehouse staff working late into the night, here are some key factors to keep in mind to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your on-hired workforce.   

Never skimp on training and correct onboarding, no matter how busy you are

During busy periods it might be tempting to onboard new staff quickly, without correct or thorough training and inductions. But this is an absolutely crucial step in keeping your employees safe – no matter how busy you are.

In addition to standard task-specific training, workers in warehouses, factories or other environments that contain site-specific dangers, should be provided with induction training to inform them of site-specific hazards and to familiarise them with safe work procedures. Such training could include:

  • Hazard identification and risk control
  • Hazardous manual tasks and safe lifting techniques
  • First aid and amenities
  • Fatigue management
  • Safe usage/handling of machinery

In addition to this, if you have staff working throughout the night, it is important to provide them with information regarding the effects of night shifts and how they can manage this. As an employer, learn to recognise fatigue indicators in your employees and keep the lines of communication open with staff, so they feel comfortable speaking with you if they aren’t coping.

Designing shift schedules

When it comes to shifts and rostering, there are many different recommended schedules that all have different features. The diversity of work and workplaces means there is no single optimal shift system which suits everyone. However, a planned and systematic approach to managing the risks of shift work can improve the health and safety of workers.

The key risk factors which should be considered in shift schedule design are the workload, the work activity, shift timing and duration, direction of rotation and the number and length of breaks during and between shifts. Other features of the workplace such as the physical environment can also contribute to the risks associated with shift work.

Managing night shifts

Night shifts tend to be the hardest on the body, and night workers can quickly accumulate “sleep debt,” or missed hours of sleep. This can lead to decreased attention span and micro-sleeps, which could result in accidents occurring.

According to Safe Work Australia, some key factors to consider when scheduling night shifts include:

  • Restrict number of successive night shifts (no more than three to four if possible).
  • Allow for at least 2 full night’s sleep after the last night shift.
  • Avoid keeping workers on permanent night shifts.
  • Arrange shifts so day sleep is not restricted.
  • Where possible, provide at least 24 hours’ notice before night work.

It’s also important to remember that work which is physically or mentally demanding, monotonous, or requires high vigilance, can lead to fatigue.  

Bonus or incentive schemes or other pressures to achieve productivity are not suitable for night work, as this can encourage staff to work through fatigue or breach health and safety protocols.  

Think about the working environment

One of the simplest ways to help keep your on-hired workforce safe is through providing them with a working environment that best facilitates this. For example, keeping the workplace cool and bright will help those working shifts, particularly those working through the night, stay alert while on the job.

Workers should be able to stand up, stretch or walk periodically to get some exercise, and avoid long periods sitting or standing in one place. For staff who engage in repetitive work, employers should provide some training about stretching exercises they can perform to reduce soreness and risk of Repetitive Strain Injury. Ideally, a break room would be provided for staff, so they have a space they can use to take food breaks and access water, coffee or tea.

Implement a healthy break policy

Encouraging staff to take breaks can also help to significantly reduce the risk of injury and accidents in the workplace, as well as increase productivity, overall work performance and job satisfaction. 

Breaks taken at the work station are typically of a poorer quality than those in a separate area, therefore employers who provide a comfortable space, such as a break room, for their employees often see the benefits.

Breaks away from the workstation are particularly important for those working night shifts, and employers should also consider increasing the duration and frequency of break compared to day shifts. Short naps may be helpful during night shifts, particularly on extended shifts, meaning appropriate facilities may need to be provided for this.

If you’re looking to partner with a recruitment agency who understands the needs of your business and on-hired workforce, contact CozWine today and speak with one of our consultants.