Apr 27, 2008

Management Tips: Work environment, work distribution and other fatigue management issues

Here are some other shiftwork management tips to help maintain maximum alertness, productivity, and safety in a 24/7 workplace, and to improve the quality of life for shiftworkers:

Workload Distribution
In some jobs, it might be possible to schedule heavy or demanding work at times when workers are most alert or at peak performance. The afternoon and early evening hours are times of peak performance. If possible, avoid doing the heaviest or most dangerous work in the middle of the night or early morning hours. This is the time when circadian rhythms are low, and sleepiness is high. Especially avoid heavy or dangerous work if the worker is at the end of a 12-hour shift in the early morning hours. Extra fatigue from long work hours can combine with early morning sleepiness to increase accident risk.

Work Environment
Poor working conditions add to the strain of shiftwork. Adequate lighting, clean air, proper heat and air conditioning, and reduced noise will avoid adding to the shiftworker's burden. Shiftworkers also may be particularly sensitive to toxic substances because circadian rhythm changes make the body more sensitive to toxic exposure at certain times of day. Workers also should have access to hot and nutritious meals during evening and night shifts. If a cafeteria is not available, a microwave will allow workers to warm meals brought from home or bought from vending machines.

Electronic Monitoring
Technology now makes it possible to check a worker's performance every minute of the day. Some people have suggested that a monitoring or test system could be used to check a worker for dangerous levels of fatigue. There are performance tests on the market that claim to test fatigue or determine whether the worker is using drugs. However, many of them have not been tested scientifically, so we cannot recommend them at this time.

Some computer systems actually measure worker output or productivity. For example, a computer might measure the number of times a worker taps a keyboard or how many phone calls are completed in an hour. If a worker slows down too much, it could be a sign of fatigue. It may be possible to use this system as a fatigue test. But this is tricky business. The feeling of being watched constantly can be very stressful to workers. (Big brother is watching you.) It can make workers feel they have no control over their jobs. We suggest that computer monitoring be used only when the workers themselves choose it for safety purposes.

Access to Health Care and Counseling
Often, going to one's health clinic or to personal or marriage counseling is not possible in the evening or at night. Expanded access to these services will help improve shiftworkers' physical and mental health and boost morale. If services are not available within the organization, a directory of community health and counseling facilities with expanded hours could be provided.
Training/Awareness Programs
Meetings to make all workers aware of the ups and downs of shift-work can be useful, especially for new shiftworkers. It is important to invite family members to these meetings, so they can know what to expect from the shiftworker. Use the meetings to share information on all issues mentioned in this document and in the recommended reading. Talking about personal experiences also is very valuable in these types of meetings. If people are having trouble adapting to shiftwork, it is important they know they are not alone. They might learn some tricks from other workers that could make their job life easier. The family will learn just how tough the work schedule can be. It will help to know when to go easy on the worker because of the schedule.

Social Programs
A little extra effort at organizing get-togethers, hobby clubs, or sports and game activities can lessen the feeling of isolation. There is no special reason for these activities to take place only in the day or evening. For example, nighttime or early morning bowling leagues are available in some places.
Source: Plain Language About Shiftwork (NIOSH)

Related Posts:
* Management tips for improving shiftwork schedules
* Starting first shift an hour later helps alertness
* Hiring shiftworkers: best practices for managers in 24/7 operations
* Adapting to night shifts -- helping shiftworkers adapt and avoid shiftworker maladaptation

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