Playing It Safe at Night

Working when it’s dark requires an extra focus on safety.

By Alexandra Walsh

Most water well contractors are used to working long hours on a busy site to meet deadlines. And in the winter months with dusk sometimes coming before 5 p.m., contractors can find themselves at times finishing a regular day shift in the dark.

Working at night in the dark presents a potential hazard to water well contractors and is quite different from working in daylight. Working on a water well site at night means most often workers are fatigued and the lack of light can create blind spots.

It’s so important for employers to be aware of the risks involved and training needed for employees to cope with night shifts.

Working at Night Affects Workers Physically

Working unusual hours has a huge effect on both your mental and physical health. Overcoming fatigue is often difficult when workers move from a day shift to a night shift. The body’s internal clock is disrupted and this causes you to become tired at work, thereby jeopardizing your ability to work safely.

This is because the human body follows a daily rhythm which is known as “circadian rhythms.” These rhythms regulate your body temperature, metabolism, digestion, blood pressure, adrenaline, sleeping, and waking. These rhythmical processes form your body’s internal clock and are coordinated to typically allow for high activity during the day and low activity at night.

Working long into the night can upset these rhythms and lead to increased fatigue, stress, and lack of concentration. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does address changes in work schedules and what workers should know:

Society is oriented toward traditional daytime work hours and work at night will often intensify fatigue and reduce alertness.
Workers generally will not acclimate to night work, and sleep patterns will generally be disrupted so the non-work periods do
not provide full recovery, resulting in sleep deprivation. Studies suggest that it can take up to 10 days to adapt to a night time
work schedule. (OSHA, Frequently Asked Questions: Extended Unusual Work Shifts)

Working at Night Affects Workers Visually

Working in the absence of light means workers’ chances of having accidents are increased. This can be overcome by providing appropriate lighting on site and having signs brightly lit and visible to warn workers wherever hazards are present.

Employers can also reduce unsafe incidents at the jobsite by paying attention to how workers move around the site and being aware of the danger areas, mainly through training and signs.

Warning signs must be well maintained, illuminated, and visible at all times. They should also be suitably placed where they warn of hazards.

Workers operating heavy machinery and equipment may not be able to see behind the vehicle in the dark, and these blind spots present a hazard. Employers should use machinery on site that comes equipped with rear vision video systems or object detection systems that alert the operator to obstacles and people when putting the vehicle in reverse.

Check that the site has all the necessary lighting to work safely at night—lights mounted on equipment, lights attached to hard hats, lights illuminating poles or cranes, and spotlights directed at particular work areas. Fluorescent vests should be worn by workers to make them visible to other workers and machine operators.

Keep workers and equipment separated and heavy machinery confined in specially assigned areas. Identify the safest routes for workers to drive equipment through and put up signs to indicate areas with high traffic. Workers must ever be alert and on the lookout for moving vehicles and equipment. A worker should be assigned to be a spotter for heavy machinery drivers.

Working at Night Demands Planning and Training

The safety plan of the jobsite should first include an analysis of potential hazards on site arising from working in the dark. Planning ahead means taking into consideration all the possible dangers that could harm workers. Where are the blind spots? Tripping or falling hazards? Dangerous equipment?

Working in the dark presents a visibility hazard to workers, that’s obvious. But by working together, being informed, and adhering to safety guidelines, workers need not fall victim to accidents that so frequently occur in the dark.

All employers should devise a safety plan for their workers on both the day and night shifts. Workers at the site should be the ones most involved in developing the safety protocols for their site. Managers and supervisors should ask and listen to their workers about the dangers they encounter and devise with them ways of dealing with nighttime hazards. To keep the site safety plan relevant and up to date, it needs to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

Added features of the safety plan should include:

  • Educate managers and workers about the importance of getting sleep.
  • Make certain all workers have undergone a risk assessment test.
  • Check that all employees are aware of the dangers fatigue can cause when coming to and from work.
  • Offer advice to employees about carpools, public transportation, taxis and ridesharing services.
  • Ensure all areas of the jobsite are brightly lit.
  • Allow workers to have regular rest breaks throughout their night shift.
  • Require all workers to wear the correct PPE, hard hats, and high visibility clothing.

Managers and supervisors should learn to recognize signs and symptoms of health effects associated with night shifts. Workers who are being asked to work night shifts should be diligently monitored for early signs and symptoms of fatigue. Any employee showing such signs should be evaluated and directed to leave the work area and get some rest.

Plan on having an adequate number of people available on the job to enable workers to take breaks, eat meals, relax, and sleep if needed. If the job is at a remote site, choose a quiet, secluded area designated for rest and recuperation.

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Working when it’s dark requires an extra focus on safety. With all the safety tips mentioned in this column, there should be no excuse for anyone to be in the dark about the hazards present and actions to be taken when working at night.

DACUM Codes
To help meet your professional needs, this column covers skills and competencies found in DACUM charts for drillers, pump installers, and geothermal contractors. DO refers to the drilling chart, PI refers to the pumps chart, and GO represents the geothermal chart. The letter and number immediately following is the skill on the chart covered by the column. This column covers: DOC-3; DOD-1, 6, 8; DOK-9; DOL-2, 10; PIB-2; PIG-3; GOC-3; GOD-1, 7, 10; GOI-9; GOJ-2, 10. More information on DACUM and the charts are available here.

Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.