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Organisation of Night and Shift Work

Organising shift work in a healthy manner

The organisation of work in night and shift duties presents specific organisational challenges under health and social aspects. Based on scientific studies, it has long been known that these forms of working time may constitute a risk to employees’ health.

Approximately six million people in Germany work in shift systems. Those who work in shifts live against their biological clock, which may cause health risks. This has also been shown in numerous scientific studies.

Only a well organised shift schedule minimises health risks for employees and allows for a smooth process within the company. The schedule should be ergonomic and must be developed pursuant to ergonomic findings, as required by law. This is specified by the German Working Time Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz) for the organisation and flanking of night and shift work. Especially § 6 section 1 Working Time Act is of particular interest, requiring the organisation of night and shift work to be performed in accordance with ergonomic findings.

Recommendations for the healthy organisation of shift work

Based on the present ergonomic findings, the following recommendations for action can be formulated:

  1. The number of consecutive night shifts should be as low as possible.
  2. The rest period after a night shift phase should be as long as possible. The rest period should by no means be shorter than 24 hours.
  3. Blocked weekend spare time periods are better than individual days off at the weekend.
  4. Shift workers should have more days off per year than day workers, if possible.
  5. Disadvantageous shift sequences should be avoided, i.e. always rotate forwards.
  6. The morning shift should not start too early.
  7. The night shift should end as early as possible.
  8. Rigid starting times should be relinquished for the benefit of individual preferences.
  9. The accumulation of working days or working times to one day should be limited.
  10. Shift schedules should be predictable and clear.

These recommendations do not have to be fulfilled all at the same time and implemented in the specified order. The criteria listed above must rather be evaluated individually and adapted to the requirements of the company. However, as a matter of principle, the criteria for reducing health risks must be prioritised.

Further, the following is applicable:

  • The accumulation of work load should be avoided taking into consideration the working time.
  • The rest periods between the shifts should be long enough to allow for effective recovery.
  • In order to avoid sleep deficits, the number of consecutive night shifts should not be too high.

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