Communication breakdowns can easily occur in any 24/7 operations, which can threaten the safety of an operation.
Shift workers are especially susceptible to communication gaps, due to fatigue, shift changes, and long breaks that often come with 24/7 operations.
The risk of a serious accident or injury occurring is dramatically increased when careless mistakes made during one shift don’t surface until the next crew has taken over.
You can’t completely eliminate the inherent human performance limitations of shift work, but you can increase workforce communication to improve the safety of your operation, here are six tips on how to do so:
1. Log books
Shift log books aren’t new to 24/7 operations, and they remain an effective communication tool for workers and supervisors. Ensure that shiftworkers and supervisors record what happened on their shift, highlighting any abnormal or unusual activities. Require workers on the next shift to read the entries of the prior shift and record that they’ve read it.
2. Bulletin boards
Operations with little change in day-to-day processes often find that a centrally located bulletin board works well as a communications center. Make sure to only post need-to-know information to keep the postings relevant and effective.
3. E-mails and text messages
Even as technology continues to advance, email is still one of the fastest and easiest forms of communication. Text message alerts can also be set up for emergency notifications.
4. Shift overlaps
Many companies utilize shift overlaps of 15 to 30 minutes, which allow workers and supervisors on different shifts to directly communicate with one another. Shift overlaps present opportunities for brief, informal meetings to be occur between workers rarely communicate in-person with one another.
At one chemical company, the shift “leadman” — an hourly employee — always stays over for 30 minutes of overtime. “It’s a cost we’re willing to pay because it works well,” the unit manager said. “It’s especially beneficial during the midnight shift change, when there may not be any managers working.”
5. Meetings near shift changes
Schedule meetings near a shift change to enable multiple crews to attend, or hold the same meeting two or three times to accommodate different schedules.
If possible, avoid requiring night workers to attend daytime meetings (when they normally sleep), or calling in workers on their days off for meetings.
6. Record Meetings
Many conference systems today have built-in video/audio recording features that can be used to record daytime meetings for night shift workers to view when convenient. These recordings can be posted on the local computer network for easy viewing.
If video/audio recording of meetings isn’t feasible or ideal, circulate meeting notes via email to appropriate individuals.
One metal processing company on fixed 8-hour shifts holds a monthly meeting at 2:30 p.m. for first and second shift workers (with the second shift coming in half an hour early). The meeting is videotaped for third shift employees to watch that night.
Communication failures can be a root cause of many preventable accidents and injuries. Improving workforce communication is the first step to increasing the overall safety and well-being of an operation.
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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.