Make Shift Work SAFE Work

Most people in this country think of "work hours" as the daylight hours from 8 or so in the morning until 5 or so in the afternoon. But more than 20 million Americans work a different schedule. If this applies to you, be aware that your safety is just as critical as the day crew, but that conditions and hazards may be different. If you work a nonstandard shift, you should realize that the potential for accidents and injuries tends to be significantly higher on night shifts than during the day.

Night time construction is a necessity in the industry for reasons of cooler temperatures and less traffic and congestion. The ability to work more efficiently comes when the heat and daytime activity won’t slow down the process. Working at night has several benefits, and there are a number of factors to consider for the safety of your crew, your customers and the general public. You should always think of safety first and develop a thorough training program for your crew. Know the best equipment for night work and have a night time construction work plan that puts it all into perspective. You’ll be rewarded with a well-organized construction site that gives you superior results.

The Benefits of Night Time Construction:

  • Less activity is the most common advantage to planning night time construction.
  • Low impact on traffic and delaying motorists.
  • Reduced risk of traffic accidents.
  • More flexibility in the work zone to safely layout your project with less traffic interference.
  • Workers not exposed to as much automotive emissions.
  • Less fuel burned, and less pollution created from idling vehicles waiting to get through the construction zone.
  • Cooler temperatures are more favorable for concrete setting.
  • Increase in productivity due to worker comfort in cooler temperatures.
  • More lanes can be closed at night to allow for work activities.
  • Less intrusive to area businesses that would be negatively affected by the construction happening during their business hours.
  • Lower costs to setup and run a night time operation compared to a day time project.

Challenges Associated with Night Time Construction:

  • The type of work may be different. Some companies schedule inherently heavy or more hazardous work at night when fewer people are around. This reduces risk for the many, but not necessarily for those on a graveyard or swing shift.
  • It's more difficult to see in the dark. Artificial light can't illuminate every surface, which can result in more trips and falls. This also makes night driving more hazardous.
  • Shift work may result in psychological problems for shift workers who fail to eat, rest and sleep adequately. Research indicates that shift workers may suffer depression, increased alcohol use, and even symptoms of physical illness.
  • The potential for criminal behavior may increase the need for security by both the company and employees, since the cover of darkness is often used to help people commit crimes.
  • Night workers who lack seniority for day shift assignments may be less experienced and less aware of safe work practices. This can make them more hazardous to themselves and others.

Night Time Construction Safety

Creating a safe construction zone is a high priority for everyone involved. Addressing the risks and site hazards is commonly done through a risk management process that should be completed before workers show up on the site. For night time construction, special circumstances must be addressed specific to the unique qualities of working at night. Any possible risks should be thoroughly assessed. Look at the issue and determine ways to prevent and/or treat any occurrence of the situation. Then, ongoing monitoring is needed to be aware of the effectiveness of the plan; it should be adjusted as required.

By brainstorming the risks associated with your construction project, you should create a list of potential problems like the one below:

  • Low visibility
  • Glare from lighting
  • Noise levels
  • Working standards
  • Alertness of workers and drivers
  • Higher vehicle speeds
  • Impaired drivers
  • Traffic control
  • Air quality
  • Staffing challenges

Every construction project is unique, so fresh brainstorming should be done for each of your work zones. Different site conditions, contract details, timelines, workers and equipment involved will change the dynamics of your risk management plan. Keeping safety matters in mind from the very beginning of your project will help you be prepared to respond to any situation that may arise.

Understand Worker Safety at Night

You maintain a safe work zone for more than legal requirements and the health and happiness of people. You also avoid unnecessary downtime and additional costs associated with accidents and setbacks. Safety training, highly visible outer garments and quality equipment will give your workers the best advantage to keep their work environment safe and productive.

Ways to Maintain a Safe Night Time Construction Site

Fatigue - The Number One Shift Work Safety Problem

Your normal "body clock" wants you to be awake, alert, and productive during daytime. It can be hard to adjust to a different schedule than what your body naturally wants. People "off schedule," can feel tired and less alert. They are less likely to notice a potentially dangerous condition, or to respond quickly in an emergency. For example, more than 50,000 motor vehicle accidents per year are believed to be caused by sleepy drivers. Perhaps it's no coincidence that disasters like the Three Mile Island nuclear malfunction and the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened at night.

Tips for Dealing with Fatigue:

  • Engineering controls can help--such as improved lighting, ventilation, proper temperatures and noise control. But the key to dealing with fatigue lies with individual employees, who should:
  • Keep a regular bedtime schedule. Your body can't adjust if you don't give it a chance.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and quiet - have family or roommates cooperate with noise control.
  • Avoid excessive use of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine--especially during the pre-sleep hours.
  • If possible, try not to rotate shifts, which makes it more difficult for your body to adjust.
  • Eat regular meals, but don't consume a heavy meal right before retiring--eat a light snack.
  • Maintain a regular exercise routine, which improves sleep and helps reduce overall stress.
  • Most important of all, get enough sleep for your own, personal body needs.

Remember This

Construction Night Time Work Vest

Your employer should give you high-visibility safety apparel (HVSA), which is made to return light (such as from headlights).

  • Wear Type R (Roadway) around motorist traffic or in roadway work zones.
  • Wear Type R Performance Class 3 at night for even better visibility.

Your employer is responsible for providing enough light so that workers can be seen by each other and oncoming traffic. Your work area should:

  • Have a site-specific plan to match the light level to the activity in each work area of the site.
  • Check field lighting regularly for brightness, and use larger traffic control devices, reflective materials, and lettering to improve safety.
  • Set arrow panels at nighttime light levels; at night, lights on daytime settings are blinding.

Night Time Construction Work