All people are prone to making errors and this is more likely when they are tired, under time pressure, or exposed to distractions and interruptions (particularly when carrying out familiar/mundane tasks). The goal of a shift handover is the accurate, reliable communication of task-relevant information across shift changes, thereby ensuring continuity of safe and effective working.
Consider the situation when a person with sole responsibility for a task/equipment takes a break from work, then returns to the same task following their absence. If the task has not been progressed/equipment not used or altered by someone else, communication is not an issue.
Contrast this with work which is shared between more than one person or continues during an absence. Under such conditions, communication and coordination take on crucial importance.
Without effective handover measures, the danger of assumption is high. Imagine the scenario where an equipment fault is noted by the operative as he nears the end of a long and tiring shift, he makes a note to himself to raise the concern when he hands over to the following shift worker. In their eagerness to get home he forgets to relay the information, resulting in the equipment failing and causing a costly accident. It is a scenario that is easy to imagine as fatigue sets in and highlights the importance of introducing effective communication during a shift change.
Effective communication is important in all organisations when a task and its associated responsibilities are handed over to another person or work team. This can occur at shift changeover, between shift and day workers, or between different functions of an organization whithin a shift. e.g operation and maintenance.
Many accidents have occurred because of failure of communication at shift handover, the majority of these involved planned maintenance work.
Key principles in handover
To ensure safe handover, organization should:
- Identify higher risk handover;
- Develop staff’s communication skill
- Emphasise the importance of shift handover;
- Provide procedures for shift handover
- Plan for maintenance work to be completed within one shift if possible
Shift handover should be:
- Conducted to face-to-face
- Two-way, with both participants taking joint responsibility
- Done using both verbal and written communication
- Based on an analysis of the information needs of incoming staff
- Given as much time and resource as necessary
- It is important to minise unnecessary information so that the system does not become devalued.
Improvements should also be made by:
- Designing support equipment, such as logs and computer displays, with consideration of the operators needs;
- Involving the end-users when implementing any changes to existing communication methods at shift handover.
- Specifying the time normally expected for handovers
- Use of Suitably designed checklist
- Use of a reading file for crew changeovers or after long rest periods.
Shift handover is one of three key elements in a shift changeover , typically including:
1) A preparation period by the outgoing shift;
2) Shift handover, where both the outgoing and incoming shift communicate so that task-relevant information is reliably exchanged; and
3) Subsequent cross-checking by the new shift. Effective shift handover requires the accurate and reliable communication of task-relevant information between shifts to ensure continuity and safe working.
In dynamic industries, there is a disproportionate number of errors and accidents that occur after shift handover. Good communication is imperative and should combine face-to-face two-way discussions between the shift workers, along with written logs.
Effective communication is important in all organisations when a task and its associated responsibilities are handed over to another person or work team. Critical times when good communication must be assured include: at shift changeover, between shift and day workers, between different functions of an organisation within a shift (e.g. operations and maintenance) and during process upsets and emergencies.
Spoken and written communication can be critical in maintaining safety. This can include general communications in the form of safety information, communications between team members or between different teams during operations or maintenance work, and emergency communications.
Failures in shift communication, including shift handover, continue to contribute significantly to industrial major accidents worldwide and are now increasingly recognised as critical in other domains. The importance of shift changeover was particularly highlighted in the UK – and subsequently worldwide, especially within the oil and gas industries.
Safety critical communication is involved in practice in a much broader range of activities, but here the focus is on shift communication and specifically changeover.
Shift handover is the best known type of safety. Critical communication requires effective, structured and formal communication arrangements in direct proportion to the risks and hazards of concern.
Communication within an organisation where some employees work shifts will always require more effort and focus to be successful, and is especially important in high hazard operations
Management should specify at least a minimum period for handovers. Typically a handover on a 12-h shift may last up to 30 min, though shorter periods may be sufficient depending on the complexity of the process or activity and current status, provided the handover is well-structured and thought-out. If this requires extra time then that should be paid or otherwise rewarded. Other ways of stressing the importance of handover include making arrangements to ensure a reasonably uninterrupted period is available for changeover i.e. time beforehand to prepare and time afterwards to consolidate/check, and planning to avoid – or postpone – key tasks during changeover, and minimising interruptions. For example control rooms may be secured against interruptions for that period, and phone calls held or kept short.
The identification of high-risk handovers is also very important Some of these may be specific to the kind of industry, or process concerned. In the major hazard sector, the key information to be identified for handover should include that necessary for the control and prevention of major accidents, and not just for occupational health and safety issues as in the non-major hazard industries.
Also Shift length affects handover significantly. A 12-hour system offers continuity improvements with a smaller number of handovers and an increased number of these where the same staff are involved i.e. the outgoing person gives the handover at one end of a shift and receives it at the other. It can also improve communications with maintenance and production staff because more maintenance work can be completed within-shift.
Disadvantages include: reduced chances to meet and communicate directly with day staff e.g. if handover is at 07.00/19.00 then day staff will not usually be present; more reliance on logs and other written communication; longer periods off duty between shift cycles so that more effort and time is necessary to bring returning staff up-to-speed on their return and for them to re-familiarise themselves with the on-going operations and maintenance picture; and there are some possible fatigue effects on alertness and performance noted resulting from the extended working periods
However, although 12-h systems may reduce the number of handovers and increase the number of same-person handovers, this can also increase the likelihood of some error types e.g. mistakes. So if for example an outgoing person briefs the incoming one incorrectly or inadequately and then returns to take over on the next shift, then this mistaken awareness or picture may persist unchallenged (this applies equally if the outgoing person leaves with an incorrect or inadequate awareness of what is going on).Henry Onuigbo