Risk Factors Of Night Shift Work

General Safety By Matthew Coombes

Staff who regularly carry out more than 3 hours of work during the hours of 11pm and 6am are classified as night shift workers. The hours that night shift workers will work are dependant on the contract of employment between the employee and the employer, in addition to government guidance, the findings of risk assessments for the work undertaken, and in the UK, The Working Time Regulations (1998).

The type of work:
A lot of the risks associated with night work will be related to the type of work being carried out.


Worker Risk
Office Worker Isolation, stress, lone working
Emergency call handler High intensity work, possible traumatic situations
Shop stocker Manual handling, slips trips and falls, risk of attack
Factory Worker Fatigue, stress, machinery related injuries
Security Staff Risk of attack/arson, lone working


Common risks

However, there are some common factors that will affect (nearly) everyone. When an individual is new to a night shift role, or when they have other responsibilities to maintain (e.g. older/younger dependants, other jobs, studying etc.) the impact of night shift working on the sleeping pattern and eating habits can lead to an increase in risk to health and safety.

Sleeping pattern

Night shift working often means sleeping during the day, which many people will find much harder. Additionally, the sleeping ‘pattern’ is exactly that, a routine pattern that we get into based on our conscious and subconscious thinking and our body (circadian rhythm). Disturbing this pattern can lead to stress, fatigue, irritability, poor concentration and can increase the risk of an accident or incident due to human factors.


Another factor that affects the majority of night shift workers is that of eating. It can be problematic trying to eat an appropriate amount of food (and healthy food) when working on night shifts for multiple reasons:

  • You may not feel like eating or eating substantially (eating a full meal at 5:30am when you come home from work)
  • Shops and much of the food industry may be closed
  • Cooking/preparing your food to take with you can be difficult if you’re asleep during the day then trying to prepare your lunch late at night or while people are sleeping

Social, relationship and mental health issues

Working night shifts can be very isolating, if you’re working alone or just don’t get on with any colleagues that you’re working with, there may be large portions of your time with little to no positive social interaction, something which is essential for our mental wellbeing.

In addition to this, any time off work may not be available to spend with family or friends due to conflicting with ‘day shift’ schedules.

This can make it difficult to work and maintain our mental health and wellbeing, leading to mental health problems. Some companies mitigate the risks associated with this by providing increased hourly pay or salaries for night shift workers, meaning that they may be able to meet their needs by working fewer days that a ‘typical’ job. This might mean working 3 night shifts a week instead of 5 days, for example, resulting in more free time for rest and socialising.

Travelling to and from work (UK)

While not covered under UK legislation, commuting at night can be very difficult. Many train and bus services in the UK do not run overnight, and therefore it can be problematic to get to and from the workplace.

Additionally, there are increased risks while driving at night. Although the roads are often much quieter, meaning that the commute is faster or less difficult, there are increased risks:

  • People speeding – While travelling at higher speeds tends to be much safer on an open road, that’s not going to help when someone crashes into you at 100mph
  • Drunk drivers – They’re not vampires and are present during the day too I’m sure, but drunk drivers travelling back from last orders at the pub or closing of a club can be much more frequent from the hours of 11pm to 4am.
  • Poorer visibility – In addition to less visibility at night, there are nocturnal animals, people wearing dark clothing and drunk people to avoid crashing into. Any adverse weather conditions e.g. rain, sleet, and snow can create such low visibility that it is hard to see any upcoming hazards including stationary hazards.

At risk persons

Certain groups of people can be at higher risk of accidents, injuries or ill-health as a result of night shift work. There are specific health risks for pregnant workers and young workers and any individual who works alone at night can be at risk of being attacked by members of the public, including arsonists and burglars.

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