5 Tips for Managing 24/7 Operations

managing shift work operations

Managing 24/7 operations comes with a host of challenges that many daytime-only operations don’t have to consider. Based on our expertise in 24/7 workforce solutions, here are five useful tips for managing 24/7 operations.

TIP 1: Examine your business reasons for operating around-the-clock

Many operations involve processes that require the operation to run continuously – however, some operations have a choice, one that is often made largely on economic grounds.

A variety of factors should be taken into consideration when deciding on whether or not to run operations continuously (i.e. 24-hours a day).

There are many compelling economic advantages to running nonstop, 24/7 operations, including: increased utilization of capital investment, improvements in customer service, and reduced pay-back time for investments in automation.

Each of these provide a sizable operational advantage, especially when labor costs are a small percentage of the total budget. Additionally, if the alternative to running continuous operations is to purchase major equipment or build a new plant, the financial advantages of running nonstop can be considerable.

Financial disadvantages of running 24/7 operations include potentially significant excess costs due to employee fatigue, which can emerge as increased errors, accidents, legal liability, turnover, health care costs, labor relations, and absenteeism. Remember – just one serious error of inattention by a sleepy employee can cost a company millions or even billions of dollars.

In many organizations, the costs of human fatigue are hidden costs buried in the budgets of the operation – however, these very real costs should be quantified and included in decision-making processes.

It’s critical that the financial implications are calculated for both major fatigue-related accidents and the cumulative costs of smaller fatigue-induced errors that reduce productivity, impair quality, damage equipment and increase scrap and rework.

TIP 2: Recognize and respect the limits of the “human machine”

We are taught that people should not be treated like machines; however, if we thought of people as highly complex machines, we might have a greater respect for their limitations.

Machines have design specifications and operating manuals that tell us the conditions under which we can use them. The human body is an exceedingly complex machine with very constrained performance limits, which we must respect if we are to reliably perform the tasks modern society demands.

We’re not designed to operate continuously around-the-clock, or on irregular schedules, or with consistent performance no matter the time of day or night. Human performance doesn’t occur linearly.

With these and many other such limits to human physiology in mind, think carefully about the tasks you are expecting people to perform, the work and rest schedules you expect them to live, and the workplace conditions you have created for them. Are you respecting and adapting to human physiological limits and building on the strengths of the human machine, or are you setting up your shiftworkers for failure or impaired performance?

TIP 3: Educate your workforce on the biological basis of shift work challenges

When it comes to managing people in continuous operations, supervisors and managers can incorrectly rely on intuition when assessing and addressing the needs of shift workers.

For an operation to run safely, it’s important that both management and workers understand the physiological principles of alertness, sleep, fatigue and circadian rhythms. Education can be provided with formal training about human sleep and alertness physiology – supplemented by readings, manuals, classes, online training, and/or seminars.

With an understanding of basic human physiology, managers and supervisors can make educated decisions that will enhance the alertness, effectiveness and health of your 24/7 workforce, rather than unintentionally undermine them.

TIP 4: Position fatigue risk management as a win-win for labor and management

Effective fatigue risk management systems (FRMS) require that management and employees work together cooperatively to combat the root causes of fatigue. This is essential because part of the solution lies in the employees’ hands and part is controlled by management.

CIRCADIAN experts agree that an FRMS can be launched even under the most difficult labor-management relations, as long as the win-win nature of the outcome is fully communicated and understood.

Considerable benefits exist for employees including improved sleep, quality of life, health and well-being. Likewise for management, major improvements can be achieved in safety, quality, productivity, employee morale and plant performance – all of which impact the bottom line.

The challenge, of course, is to build trust between management and employees to the point where all levels of management and all employees (and their union representatives if the facility is organized) can listen to and understand the win-win outcomes that are possible.

Neutral, third-party experts can provide the credibility and trust needed to implement an effective FRMS and can aid in communications between management and workers to ease underlying tensions.

TIP 5: Build a seamless continuous operations culture

Running a successful 24/7 operation requires a full commitment to the development of a continuous operations culture – where Wednesday afternoon is no different from Sunday night.

This is a challenge for many operations, as life is different on all shifts, especially in a fixed shift environment. How do you create one culture? One set of values? One operating standard?

Are all shifts supported equally? If not, problems can emerge in terms of employee morale, operational safety, productivity, and quality control due to differing levels of attention, training, supervision, experience, and/or motivation across various crews.

Professionalizing your entire 24-hour operation requires building a unified culture, where the corporate mission is well-defined, and standards and policies are uniformly applied 168 hours a week.

The end goal is to retain employees who see their jobs as a full-time commitment, who develop a loyalty to the entire operation and not just one crew, and who can move from crew to crew when necessary.

To earn this degree of employee commitment, an operation must make a sincere commitment to the safety and health of the entire workforce – all crews, at all hours. This is the only way in which an operation can develop a seamless, continuous operations culture.

Want to learn more about managing 24/7 operations?

Download the free CIRCADIAN white paper, “Reducing the Costs of Continuous Operating Schedules”.

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About CIRCADIAN®

CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock. Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research and technology, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations in the 24-hour economy optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of their extended hours operations.

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