Getting a Handle on Shift Work

We have become a society that works around the clock. The number of workers who
have rotating schedules that require them to work outside of the traditional
9:00 to 5:00 workday has grown significantly over the past years. The 'natural
cycle' of working during daylight hours and sleeping at night is being
challenged. There are some risks associated with shift work but there are also
ways to minimize them.

Tips for employers

  • Avoid permanent (fixed or non-rotating) night shifts.

  • Keep consecutive night shifts to a minimum.

  • Avoid quick shift changes.

  • Free weekends are better than a single day off.

  • Avoid several days of work followed by four- to seven-day "mini-vacations".

  • Keep long work shifts and overtime to a minimum.

  • Consider different lengths for shifts.

  • Examine start-end times.

  • Keep schedules regular and predictable.

  • Conduct a risk assessment for every task to be performed during a specific

  • Night shifts should not be too long and should end as early as possible. In
    this way workers can get more and undisturbed sleep.

  • Shift changes should be made in such a way that the worker can adapt easily to
    them. 'Rotating forward' (morning - afternoon - night) has been proven to be
    easier to adapt to than rotating backwards or having irregular shift changes.

  • Morning shifts should not start too early. The earlier the shift starts, the
    earlier workers have to get up and the less sleep they get.

  • Shift schedules should be set in consultation with the worker.

  • Scheduling the same worker to more than one shift a day should be avoided.

Tips for shift workers

There are steps that shift workers can take with their diet, sleep and social
life to help preserve their health.


  • Afternoon workers should have a meal in the middle of the day instead of the
    middle of their work shift.

  • Night workers should eat lightly throughout the shift.

  • Relax during meals and allow time for digestion.

  • Drink lots of water.

  • Cut back on foods that are highly salted and those high in fat.

  • Maintain regular eating patterns with well balanced meals.

  • Minimize the intake of caffeine and alcohol.

  • Avoid fast food and vending machine food.


  • Have a comfortable, quiet place to sleep during the day.

  • Air conditioning, foam ear plugs and good blinds may help.

  • Make time for quiet relaxation before bed.

  • Sleep on a set schedule to help establish a routine.

  • Avoid strenuous exercise before sleeping.

  • If you don't fall asleep after one hour, read a book or listen to quiet music.

  • If you still can't sleep, reschedule sleeping hours for later in the day.


  • Schedule at least one daily meal with the family.

  • Keep in touch with your spouse and children daily.

  • Set time aside for just you and your spouse.

  • lPan family activities.

  • Pay close attention to physical fitness.

  • Try to reduce your stress.

Further Information - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety