Work arrangements

Mentally healthy workplaces: Resources for management

Work arrangements

Setting appropriate work arrangements is integral to promoting positive mental health in the workplace.

Sleep deprivation, sleep disturbance and fatigue are health risks commonly associated with long working hours. Fatigue has also been identified as a health risk with work that involves shifts or regular or periodic night work. Issues that may arise from poorly planned rosters and shifts include:

  • impaired mental and physical performance
  • symptoms of work-related stress
  • increased exposure to hazards
  • longer term health effects.

What are some considerations in the design of shifts and rosters?

There are many different shift work arrangements and each arrangement has different features. While there are many options, rosters and shifts should allow sufficient time for rest, recovery and recreation to disengage from the work environment and the opportunity to socialise.

When designing shifts and roster, organisations should:

  • consider shift length in relation to the physical and mental demands, as well as the repetitiveness of the work (e.g. inadequate variation of tasks)
  • consider commuting arrangements (e.g. travel time to or from work should be assessed for any additional risks for workers travelling home from sites or airports)
  • consult with the workforce (e.g. safety and health representatives, supervisors) regarding proposed work arrangements
  • consider shift length in relation to fatigue critical tasks (tasks where there are potentially increased risks of incidents, injury or harm should workers become fatigued)
  • consider whether there will there be extended exposure to hazards during the shift (e.g. hazardous substances, noise, extreme temperature, vibration). If so, what controls will be implemented?
  • consider providing information and training on fatigue management for workers with longer, periodic or variable shifts.

What are the risks associated with shift work?

Humans are active and perform best during the day and typically sleep at night when performance is generally poorer. Work schedules that require people to be awake and active at night or early in the morning cause disruptions to the body’s circadian rhythms (the body clock). This will affect the quality and quantity of sleep and lead to a build-up of sleep debt and a decrease in alertness and performance. Therefore, organisations using shift work arrangements need to consider psychosocial hazards that could be associated with those arrangements.

While day shifts are linked to better mental health and wellbeing outcomes, there are controls organisations can put in place to manage the risks of night shifts. For example, organisations that use a rotating three-shift system should consider using a forward rotation (day to evening to night shift) as the forward rotation of shifts is linked to improved fatigue management. Additionally, the forward rotation of shifts allows for workers to wake up later as their shifts change, which is generally easier for most people to do.

For more information and practical strategies on managing the risks associated with shift work, refer to Health and safety guidelines for shift work and extended working hours.

Resources

Comcare’s guide to remote or isolated work (2013)

This guide describes the nature of remote and isolated work and the psychological and physical risks associated with that work. It also provides guidance on managing shift work, travel and fatigue.

Code of Practice: Working hours (2006)

This code of practice by the Commission for Occupational Safety and Health, Mining Industry Advisory Committee provides guidance for employers and workers on the management of safety and health hazards commonly associated with working hour arrangements.

Frequently asked questions on preventing and managing fatigue on Western Australian mining operations – information sheet (DMIRS)

This information sheet answers common questions about fatigue in the mining industry and what may be done to manage and prevent it.

Guide for managing the risk of fatigue at work

This document by SafeWork Australia provides practical guidance for managing fatigue and making sure it does not contribute to health and safety risks in the workplace.