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How to manage sleep deprivation in the workplace

6 Sep

Sleep deprivation in the workplace is an issue that is often ignored or even sometimes expected to happen occasionally. What also may be ignored are the effects that sleep deprivation can have on productivity, performance, capability, cognitive skills and mood. Sleep deprivation is often the root cause of accidents, incidents and mistakes in the workplace and can cost companies millions each year.

The recommended amount of sleep per night is 7-9 hours. Sleep is essential for maintaining cognitive skills such as communication, memory, creativity and concentration. With work patterns changing and employees remaining connected to work during ‘rest periods’, sleep deprivation is unsurprisingly increasing in the workplace.

What can cause sleep deprivation?

  • Long working hours
  • Inadequate rest
  • Shift working
  • Insufficient break time between shifts
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Going to bed late
  • Family worries
  • Underlining health issues

What can employers do?

For shift workers, where sleep deprivation is common, the Health and Safety Executive provides guidance on shift design. Some suggestions include limiting shifts to 12 hours including overtime, or to eight hours if they are night shifts and/or the work is demanding, monotonous, dangerous and/or safety critical. Another suggestion is to encourage workers to take regular breaks and allow some choice as to when they are taken.

The first point of call is for employers to promote an understanding environment, where employees can be open with their managers about any sleep issues affecting them at work. Often employees are scared of opening up to managers if they are tired for fear of losing their job. Employers have a legal duty to manage risks from fatigue and sleep deprivation. This can be done directly or if there are Health and Safety representatives, through them. Employers should always pay close attention to decreases in performance or productivity and be willing to provide suggestions on how best to help the employee.

Another point to recognise is the importance of job and policy designs. A well-planned job design or policy should consider the effects of the working hours or demands of the job on employees. Employers may also decide to include a clause in the contract to prohibit an employee from working elsewhere without gaining consent from the Company. This can help to track the number of hours per week an employee is working and what type of work they are doing elsewhere also.

With work patterns changing and many employees remaining connected to work during rest periods, employers are advised to let staff ‘unplug’. Encourage employees to switch off by reducing/halting out-of-work emails and protecting disconnected time during non-work hours. Bear in mind, employees may find it stressful to be ‘out of the loop’, so work with them to decide what’s best for them.

Need some advice?

For support and guidance with your business’s Health and Safety, contact Lauren Dickinson via email or call our Management Services team on 02920 853794. You can also view our Health and Safety courses by clicking here.