Shift workers at risk through lack of night-time inspections

An academic has warned that the health and safety of the UK’s estimated 3.5 million shift workers is being put at risk because the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) undertakes no routine inspections during atypical working hours.

In a report in the TUC journal Hazards, professor Andrew Watterson, of the University of Stirling, said shift workers potentially received second-class treatment because HSE staff were not rostered to work outside of normal hours, meaning that there was no preventive health promotion work and no routine ‘graveyard shift’ health and safety inspections out of hours.

This gap in the guidance could prevent both workers and their doctors from making the link between working hours and patterns of poor health, he argued.

“Shift work causes real health problems, but these are largely hidden problems – few shift workers know of the risks, and the Health and Safety Executive is near dormant on the issue,” Watterson said.

“Since 2001-02, the HSE has issued 38 improvement notices relating to the Working Time Regulations, although since 2003, no year has seen more than two notices. The two HSE prosecutions since 2001 were not on working hours-related health issues, but followed workplace fatalities,” he added.

In response, HSE’s chief medical adviser John Osman said: “HSE recognises the important implications of the relationship between shift work and ill-health, including fatigue, and the more recently reported association with breast cancer and possibly other cancers.”

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