It happens twice a year, and the clocks going back in the UK are often the signs of the start and end of the warmer months of the year. Daylight savings were introduced to better structure the working day around the availability of sunlight, however, with the advent of modern technology, the need for constant daylight has been reduced.
Despite the lessened need, many working in the construction industry will need to cope with the added darkness which can often result in the loss of an hour of daylight for work tasks to be completed in.
Whilst we are set to draw the clocks back on the 25th of October, many are calling for a standard fixed time to be introduced; due in part to the impact it can have on sleep and the dangers this can pose for the health and safety of your workplace.
How can daylight savings impact on sleep?
The internal body clock can be a delicate thing to manage, any subtle changes can be enough to alter the circadian rhythm and affect your wakefulness and alertness throughout the day. The added change not only impacts on the time you will spend asleep, but the disruption to the ‘waking up’ routine can also be enough to disrupt both your mood and productivity at work.
The changing of the clocks associated with daylight savings can even give you a mild form of jetlag. This can have big implications for your personal health and safety. If you are already somewhat sleep-deprived, losing an hour can have a big impact to perform your job in a productive and safe manner.
Why is Daylight Savings dangerous for health and safety?
A division that is commonly drawn in health and safety is the difference between occupational health disciplines, such as physical or mental health, and the procedure associated with safety and the prevention of accidents. DST has the potential to impact on both an individual’s health and their safety at work.
DST and the effect on occupational health in workers
In terms of the physical health impacts, DST has been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks in the week following the change. Interestingly research has also indicated that men tend to be more susceptible to the autumn changes whilst women are more affected by the spring clock changes. These and other findings should be of concern to any occupational health and safety team which needs to consider the health of its employees both within and outside of the workplace.
In terms of the effect on mental health, the minor change in circadian rhythm can be enough to lower it in the short term but the long-term danger is that the changes in the rhythm can be difficult to recover. If this results in poorer quality sleep in the long run this can have very troubling implications for employee mental health.
The effect DST can have on safety in the workplace
In addition to the damaging effect DST can have on the wellbeing of workers, it can also impact on visible worker health and safety. A study from Christopher, Barnes, and Wagner (2009) linked the effects of DST not only to increase the frequency of workplace-related incidents but also the severity of them. This results in a massive impact on the lives of employees but also a considerable effect on the overall workplace productivity.
The increase in worker fatigue resulting from disrupted circadian rhythms can impair judgment, productivity, and alertness. If they are operating heavy machinery, this can be recipe for disaster.
It is also worth noting that getting to the workplace after DST could also be more hazardous. Daylight savings has been shown to increase the risk of incidents due to both the effect it can have on driver alertness and the reduced visibility when driving home in the evenings. This should be taken into account by health and safety teams with reminders to take extra care potentially being circulated to employees and workers.
What can we do to prevent the dangers of DST?
The dangers that are posed by the change in the clocks are apparent, and the period is often a stage of increased alertness for health and safety and occupational health teams. In terms of what we can do to help mitigate the risks, there are some simple steps that can be taken to put you in a better position.
- Take extra precautions and care with work activities the day after the change
- Try and go to sleep earlier for a week after the change
- Exercise where you can to help with sleep and well-being
- Take breaks and encourage your workers to do so
These steps will help individuals to cope with the negative effects of DST, but they should be combined with a holistic and ongoing approach to health, safety, and well-being if they are to be suitable effective.
HSE Network Sleep Awareness Month
As part of our focus on well-being in the later stages of the year, HSE Network is taking a closer look at sleep and the effect it has on mental health. This effect can have big implications for worker health and safety and can be one of the best ways occupational health teams can assist those they are responsible for.
Make sure you follow and sign-up for the HSE Network for free to get instant access to our upcoming sleep content including videos, podcasts, and research papers. The next article in the series will take a closer look at how poor quality sleep can be detrimental to the mental health and safety of workers.
Sandhu, A., Seth, M. and Gurm, H.S., 2014. Daylight savings time and myocardial infarction. Open Heart, 1(1), p.e000019.
Taylor, B.S. and Hammer, S.M., 2008. Shifts to and from daylight saving time and incidence of myocardial infarction. New England Journal of Medicine, 359(18), pp.1966-1968.
Barnes, C.M. and Wagner, D.T., 2009. Changing to daylight saving time cuts into sleep and increases workplace injuries. Journal of applied psychology, 94(5), p.1305.