As the pressure on the NHS continues, it becomes even more important that strategies to support staff delivering care are put in place. Employers will need to consider the impact that fatigue can have on staff, particularly as changing roles and/or work patterns are implemented in order to support staff to stay safe.
Fatigue can lead to additional risks, so organisations should encourage staff to raise any concerns they have with their line managers and consider increased breaks and adjustments to shifts where required. The health, safety and wellbeing partnership group’s guidance on shift working provides helpful information.
The Health and Safety Executive suggests the following tips to reduce the impact of shift working on employees:
- Eating small amounts often throughout the night will help keep energy levels up. Foods that are easy to digest such as pasta, rice, bread, salad, fruit, vegetables and milk products are best. Fatty, spicy and/or heavy meals are more difficult to digest, which can make individuals feel drowsy rather than alert. They may also disturb sleep. Sugary foods, such as chocolate, may provide a short-term energy boost, but this will be followed by a dip in energy levels.
- Employees should obtain medical advice from their doctor and/or occupational health department if they require regular medication, such as insulin for diabetes, or if they suffer from a chronic condition such as epilepsy. Employees should discuss reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010, such as ensuring adequate breaks, adjusting shift cycles etc.
- Have a short sleep before the first night shift.
- If coming off night shifts, have a short sleep and go to bed earlier that night.
- Keep to a suitable sleep schedule once identified.
- Take regular short breaks during the shift if possible.
- Get up and walk around during breaks.
- Plan to do more stimulating work at the times when feeling most drowsy.
- Keep in contact with co-workers as this may help all individuals to stay alert.
There are many resources available to support staff to maintain good mental wellbeing, including NHS Employers’ emotional wellbeing toolkit and PHE’s Every Mind Matters, which includes resources and signposting to help with anxiety and stress.