Jan 26, 2008

Why managers in 24/7 need to pay attention to the special needs of shiftworkers

There are about 25 million shiftworkers in this country. They work in factories, hospitals, power plants, railroads, police and fire departments, mines, paper mills, and hundreds of other types of 24-hour operations.

But shiftworkers do more than work at night. They work out of sync with the human body's natural instinct for being awake during the day and sleeping at night. This creates increased health and safety risks for shiftworkers in addition to the health and safety issues faced by their day-working counterparts. To improve the health and safety of employees, employers must address a number of additional areas.

These fall into two categories: employee lifestyle training and corporate policies and practices.

Because of the disruption to their circadian rhythms, nightshift workers have a higher incidence of ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders, more on-the-job and driving home accidents, lower productivity, and higher absenteeism and turnover--to name some of the most common "hidden" costs of operating around the clock. To reduce or eliminate these costs requires a comprehensive program that addresses the operational, physiological, and sociological factors.
Tired people don't find better ways to accomplish their tasks. They pay less attention to what they're doing and take longer to respond to mistakes.
In spite of the long years of schooling and training in many cases, shiftworkers and their managers are given no formal preparation on handling the special demands of working at night. There is no course on how to work long shifts or how to keep alert and effective. The fatigue that comes along with the job adversely affects attention, judgment, energy, morale, and motivation.

Compared to well-rested people, tired people move slower and work less efficiently. They don't find better ways to accomplish their tasks. They pay less attention to what they're doing and take longer to respond to mistakes. Response to alarms is slower, tools are dropped, and productivity suffers.

This is equally true for nuclear power plant engineers, pilots, manufacturing control room operators, air traffic controllers, police officers, and firefighters--anyone who works at night. In fact, even people who work 9-to-5 can benefit from increased alertness.

We'll have more to say on shiftwork and management practices.


For further reading:
* Best practices for managing a shiftwork operation
* Shiftworker lifestyle training: fatigue countermeasures, sleep strategies, and more
* Shiftwork training to improve alertness and safety on the night shift
* Shiftwork schedules: fixed or rotating
* Shiftwork schedules in the 24/7 world

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