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Shift Work Dangers Toolbox Talk

Working night shifts in construction can be taxing to your body. Inform your crews on safety best practices when working through the night.

Shift Work Dangers Safety Talk

Shift work is becoming more common in the construction and trade fields. Industries have included shift work for decades as a means of increasing production. Construction fields are also benefiting from shift work schedules and night shift work for reasons like:

  • Schedule conflicts

  • Safety

  • Weather

  • Production

Many times shift workers and night shift workers see additional pay as an incentive from their employers for working during irregular hours. Other times, construction at night cannot be avoided and becomes a necessity. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, around 15 million Americans work in a role that requires night shifts or irregular hours. Shift work in construction has trade-offs that workers who become aware of can adapt to help make it safer.

What Are The Cons of Shift Work?

The main important takeaway from working the night shift is the disruption of your circadian rhythm or your body clock. Your body is programmed to sleep at night and be awake during the day. This same body clock influences when you eat, wake up, etc… and much of it is related to the amount of light you see. Naturally, at night on the construction site, you will see dark skies and likely have to fight off the feelings of sleepiness. Then during the day when you want to sleep, you can’t or don’t sleep as well which puts you into a deficit that affects other areas of performance.

One study completed at Rockefeller University noted a cascade of possible symptoms reported by shift workers including:

  • Weight gain

  • Inability to focus

  • Impulsivity

  • Slower thinking

  • Slower reactions

  • Behavioral changes

  • Zombie like fatigue

  • Increased levels of stress due to missing family or health issues

There were physiological changes noted far beyond simple “lack of sleep” symptoms. The Agency on Cancer Research listed night shift work as likely carcinogenic to humans in 2007.

What Are The Hazards of Shift Work In Construction?

The impact of disrupting your circadian rhythm can be seen in unfortunate accidents and research that is available to all. EHS Today Oct 14, 2004, posted an article including research using worker’s compensation claims that show construction workers work more late-night shifts than other workers and there is a significantly higher rate of injury on the job after the sun goes down.

Some hazards that increased the hazards of road construction at night for example include:

  • Less traffic meant drivers drive faster

  • Drivers are more likely to be impaired

  • Brightly lit work zones cause glare and shadows

  • Increases in trip and fall injuries

  • Decreased reaction times for construction workers

  • Emergencies at night harder to respond to

  • Increases in pedestrian vs. vehicle accidents

  • Increases in struck by and back over accidents

Construction workers who work at night are at a higher risk for fatigue-related accidents compared to their peers who work in the daytime.

night work in construction.

What Can I Do To Adapt and Be Safer When I Work the Night Shift?

Knowing the hazards of shift work is the first step. Learning some best practices to help yourself adapt is next. Your priority is going to be quality sleep. The good news is the same sleep hygiene practices day workers use still apply to construction workers who work at night.

Schedule Your Sleep and Stick To It

Try to keep yourself on schedule with regular bedtimes and wake times. Routines often sound boring but your circadian rhythm thrives on them. Make your sleep area as dark as possible as the least bit of light your eyes detect will trigger your awake rhythm when you are trying to sleep.

Keep your sleep cave cool. Our body temperatures drop when we sleep and daytime temperatures can work against you sometimes. Do what you can to keep your sleep area relaxing and cool to help you sleep soundly.

Try to schedule something relaxing before going to bed. Not gaming or anything involving a TV screen. If you have the chance to catch breakfast with the family before they head out for the day, enjoy it. Some night shift workers exercise, do their hobbies, read, etc...before they go to sleep. Help your family understand the importance of keeping the house quiet during your sleep time and try to get into a routine of being awake for some time to see them before you head off to work.

Limit Light and TV

Your body’s circadian rhythm is based on light and dark. So much so that even people who normally sleep at night are advised to limit or skip screen time before bedtime for the best sleep. Our TV and device screens all emit blue light that your eyes receive. This light tricks your body into thinking it is daytime and keeps you awake when you are trying to sleep.When you want to be awake, more light is better. When you want to be asleep, darkness is your friend.

Keep Up With Your Nutrition

When you are tired and fatigued sweets and caffeine become even more tempting. However, the excess caffeine you consume while working your night shift can easily keep you awake when you want to sleep before your next shift. Maintaining regularly scheduled meals is another way to help your body’s circadian rhythm adapt to working at night.

Make water and good quality food a priority. It will give you the sustained energy you need for work as well as keep you hydrated. Likewise, proteins and complex carbs are less likely to spike your insulin, making you sleepy like a large glass of orange juice does.

Keep Up Your Activity

If you exercise before or after work while working daytime shifts, keep it in your activity mix when working the night shift too. Whether you enjoy runs, weights, swimming, walking the dog, boxing, etc… Keeping activity in your off-hour mix will help you relax before sleeping or help you wake up before work. One of your benefits of working nights is you have access to everything during the day when everyone else is at work. You can skip the crowds at the gyms, bowling alleys, jogging and bike trails, and more.

Limit Alcohol Consumption

Sure a beer or a glass of wine will help you nod off faster. But the quality of sleep you get is diminished and you will likely wake up sooner and still tired. Alcohol affects your body’s sleep cycles and prevents the deeper more restorative sleep you need for recuperation.

Safer Night Shifts In Construction

If you choose or need to work at night in construction or the trades, you can take advantage of some best practices to help make you and your peers safer. Accidents increase on the job site between 4 pm and 8 am making construction even more dangerous after dark. By following a regular sleep schedule and maintaining proper sleep habits you can help your body adapt faster and maintain awareness for the safety of yourself and your coworkers on the job site.

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