BARBADOS EMPLOYERS’ CONFEDERATION: 24/7 operations and the issues
OVER THE PAST 12 MONTHS there has been much discussion on the implementation of a 24/7 economy and the possible implication for employees and businesses alike.
While ’round-the-clock service is increasingly imperative to ensure economic development, the management of such a system is equally imperative to its success. Having a 24/7 operation does not always mean that an establishment is open around the clock, but rather that the goods or services are available for purchase.
So when we speak about safety, health and security, as it relates to the 24/7 operations, we do not only speak to personal safety and health but issues such as data security. In this article, I seek to raise some of the issues that may arise with the evolution of a 24/7 economy and outline various methods to manage such issues.
Marianne Ekonen, in her research paper titled Management In 24/7 Economy, noted that “shift work and work done at non-standard times is known to create an extra load on employees’ health and well-being, and to complicate especially the lives of families with children, as the parents have to combine the demands of work with the demands of family and home life.
Public dialogue concerning non-standard working hours has indeed labelled the phenomenon as negative and worrisome from the perspective of workforce management.
As it relates to the specific implications for occupational safety and health these include:
Workplace violence – a business can predispose itself as a target of robbery or theft when it remains open during the still hours of the early morning.
A thief tends to attack a business at its weakest points or when it appears most vulnerable. Employees should be trained in safe work practices during this period. Simple steps such as ensuring that one’s body blocks an onlooker from detecting the punch key while entering the building is a start to the type of information sharing necessary.
Burn-out – burn-out occurs as a person becomes mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted.
It is difficult to motivate employees who are suffering from burn-out as nothing seems to be important or urgent. This person, if not identified in the early stages, can derail others from working according to company standards. Additionally, burn-out has the ability to cause health effects such as prolonged headaches, muscle stiffness, gastrointestinal irregularities and many other illnesses. It is important to monitor employees who are in fast paced as well as monotonous tasks for signs of burn-out.
Fatigue – fatigue is the decline in mental and/physical performance that results from prolonged exertion, lack of quality sleep or disruption of the internal body clock.
The consequences of fatigue include reduced alertness, poor and slow perception and sleepiness. The body was made to sleep during the night and to be awake during the day; when a change occurs it disrupts the functionality of the body. The ability to adapt to the new normal can actually stress the body until the biological mechanisms become overworked, causing fatigue. Work during night periods should ideally be diverse and not monotonous. If the job function is monotonous, procedures must be taken to ensure increased breaks to allow both physical and mental detachment from the task.
Stress – while stress can be both positive and negative, even if stress motivates the employee, the employee’s workload should be balanced in such a way to avoid the negative effects.
It has been found that stress heightens a person’s predisposition to an illness. While stress does not cause the illness, it has the ability to weaken a person’s biological defences. Twenty-four hour work can be attractive for an employee who wants to work addtioanl shifts. While overtime is voluntary, a manager should be prudent in the selection of employees to fulfil overtime or fill additional shifts.
The above issues are further intensified when night shifts are also characterised as lone work. To mitigate the likelihood of these issues and others occurring, the organisation should conduct a risk assessment in according with the Safety And Health At Work Act. This should assist the organisation in determining who can be harmed, how they can be harmed, what controls currently exist and what controls need to be implemented. The completed risk assessment will then inform the new policies and procedures to ensure an updated safe system of work.
In conclusion, the organisation must take all reasonable steps to ensure that it meets its legal obligations.
The staff at the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) is always available to answer any queries our members or non-members may have.
With February being the BEC’s month for safety and health, the training sessions being offered will prove very useful in conducting risk assessments and auditing health and safety procedures.
Remember, mere possibility of unsafe circumstances can and will translate into unsafe employees and finally, damage to equipment or even loss of life.