Police Federation

Shift / Rota Management

Shift Management Graphic


There are many varied shift patterns employed within policing. In the UK, in particular, officers and staff don’t usually have the option to select a shift or rotation that works for them—those in frontline and often middle office roles (such as control room dispatchers), routinely work the shift pattern followed by their police force.

Usually, this is some form of rotating pattern, incorporating a variety of day shifts, afternoon shifts, and night shifts. The 2x2x2 pattern or 5 week VSA are two patterns recommended by the Home Office.

Shift length should ideally be between 8-10 hours, 12 hour shifts are not recommended due to significant concern over health & safety.  Shifts should be forward rotating, ideally no more than 6 shifts before rest days and no more than 4 night shifts in a block, day shifts should start as late as possible, i.e. 7am instead of 6am and rest days should be in blocks of at least 2. Predictable shift patterns are considered more favourable.

Officers working irregular and rotating shifts are exposed to the negative aspects of shift work, particularly fatigue. Shift work, particularly night shifts or rotating shifts, is known to cause sleep disturbances and reduction. The subsequent fatigue is associated with impaired decision-making, cognitive impairment, and reduced vigilance, often leading to accidents, incidents, and road traffic collisions. Those who also have to drive for work purposes are at a potentially higher risk of being involved in a fatigue-related collision.

The Washington DC Police Foundation conducted an experiment in which officers were randomly assigned to shifts (8, 10, and 12 hour). They examined the independent effects of shift length, taking into consideration the time of day worked and the variations associated with specific agencies. They examined a broad array of outcomes important to the officers themselves and the organisations, including officer stress, sleep, fatigue, health, and quality of life, off-duty employment and overtime, and a variety of performance and safety measures.  The results can be found here Shift-Length-Experiment-Practitioner-Guide.pdf (policinginstitute.org)


Assessing and managing the risks associated with shift work

An ill-considered work schedule may cause fatigue-induced poor performance and increase risk in the workplace. For example, a long night shift without breaks after a succession of previous night shifts will increase the likelihood of mistakes, accidents and injuries.

Shift work can worsen existing health problems such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy and even psychiatric conditions. In addition to this, it is always worth remembering that shift-work, especially night shifts, can impact the effectiveness of prescribed drugs, as many follow a circadian pattern.


Consider the risks of shift work and the benefits of effective management

  • What are the undesirable effects of shift-work?
  • Consider the costs and benefits of effective management of shift-working arrangements


Establish Systems to manage the risks of shift work

  • Seek management commitment to control the risks of shift work
  • Identify individuals responsible for shift-working arrangements
  • Involve safety representatives and workers


Assess the risks associated with shift work in your workplace

  • Consider the risks workers may be exposed to
  • Establish who might be harmed by shift-work
  • Consult workers and their representative


Take Action to reduce these risks

  • Assess how severe the risks are and identify where improvements need to be made
  • Improve the shift-work schedule
  • Improve the workplace environment
  • Apply good practice guidelines


Check and review your shift-work arrangements regularly

  • Implement a system for early reporting of problems associated with shift-work
  • Monitor alterations to shift-work schedules and/or work conditions
  • Periodically review the effectiveness of your shift-working arrangements


Early Starts

  • Move early shift starts before 6am forward (e.g. 7am not 6am start)
  • Limit the number of successive early starts ie before 7am (to 4 maximum if possible)
  • Shifts involving an early start should be shorter in length to counter the impact of fatigue later in the shift


Shift Length

  • If 12-hour shifts worked then no overtime worked in addition
  • Avoid long working hours (more than 50 hours per week)
  • If 8/10 hour shifts then no more than 4/2 hours additional overtime to be worked
  • Restrict ‘back to backs’ with 8 hour shifts and avoid entirely with 12 hour shifts


Rest Periods

  • Allow minimum of 12 hours between shifts and avoid ‘quick return’ of 8 hours if possible. (Rest period between shifts should permit sufficient time for commuting, meals and sleep.)
  • Plan some weekends off, advisably at least every 3 weeks



  • Rotate shifts quickly (e.g. every 2-3 days). Avoid rotating shifts every 1-2 weeks
  • Use forward rotation (morning/afternoon/night) for preference.


The risk of mistakes, accidents and injuries has been found to

  • be higher on night shifts
  • rise with increasing shift length over eight hours
  • increase over successive shifts, especially if they are night shifts
  • to increase when there are not enough breaks


For more guidance: 

Target Fatigue Banner image


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