Firms should have legal duty to protect night workers’ health, says Co-op

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The Co-op has launched a nightshift workers’ health and wellbeing ‘manifesto’ in Parliament, which has called for employers to be held legally responsible for the health consequences night work can bring.

The convenience retailer estimated that seven million people work at night in the UK. They often face chronic sleep disruption, which can elevate their risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, gastrointestinal issues, obesity and depression.

Andy Perry, Co-op’s supply chain and logistics director, said: “Sleep is something that unites us all – we all need it and we all know how terrible we can feel without enough of it. Yet whilst our round-the-clock culture is propped up by a growing number of people who work through the night, their contribution to society goes largely ignored.

“It is essential that we, as employers, do everything in our power to establish a recognised framework of best practice which places the interests of nightshift workers at its heart and that policy is put in place to protect their physical and mental health. We are delighted to be launching this new manifesto and we hope that it forms the basis of a movement which will radically improve the lives of many people who are working in the UK night after night, year after year.”

Recent Co-op research found that one in three nightshift workers were getting less than five hours sleep a night in comparison to one in six day time workers.

It recently rolled out its sleep engagement programme, called Night Club, to 8,000 workers in its logistics division.

The programme, which won Best Mental Health Initiative at this year’s Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards and is delivered in partnership with The Wellcome Trust and The Liminal Space, brings together night workers with sleep researchers for one-on-one consultations.

Participants are educated about circadian rhythms, the impact light has on sleep, how diet affects sleep and alertness, and how a lack of sleep affects mental health and the natural body clock.

The Co-op said there are five ‘Rs’ that employers should use as a template for looking after shift workers’ health.

  1. Recognise and champion night workers as a coherent group
  2. Respond to their needs and place night shift workers at the heart of any solution
  3. Respect and understand that they face a specific set of challenges in a variety of working conditions
  4. Research-led approach to implement evidence-based solutions
  5. Raise their profile and mobilise a cross-industry response to mitigate these challenges
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