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
Establish Systems to manage the risks of shift work
Assess the risks associated with shift work in your workplace
Take Action to reduce these risks
Check and review your shift-work arrangements regularly
The risk of mistakes, accidents and injuries has been found to
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