New study to focus on behaviours predicting fatigue accidents among shift workers

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Shift work is often associated with fatigue and other health and safety issues. Photo: Shivmirthyu2, Pixabay

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Photo: tpsdave, Pixabay

Shift work is often associated with fatigue and other health and safety issues.

In Australia, there are about 1.4 million shift workers. Many shift workers in the country experience impaired alertness due to lack of sleep and disruption of the normal body clock.

A new research project will examine sleep, fatigue and brain changes in a group of shift-working nurses and medical staff to help solve workplace fatigue problem.

The Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Alertness, Safety and Productivity, together with the Sleep Health Foundation will partner with Australian tech company, Seeing Machines, to monitor and study twenty shift-workers as they drive to and from work in an instrumented car.

“The Seeing Machines vehicle will use cutting-edge technology to monitor the drivers’ steering behaviours and eye closures, providing world-first insight into behaviours that can predict that a fatigue accident is likely to occur,” the researchers said in a statement.

The results of the study will be used to test new work schedules and develop smart lighting systems that will improve alertness among shift workers. The knowledge from the study will also be used to improve drowsiness detection technology.

The announcement was made on 18 March during World Sleep Day.

“Poor alertness costs the nation over $5 billion in lost productivity and healthcare costs and causes 10,000 serious workplace injuries and more than 25,000 serious injuries from road accidents,” the researchers said.

“About 16 percent of Australia’s workforce are employed as shift workers, which puts them at risk of safety and performance issues. Studies show a third of shift workers fall asleep on the job once a week or more, and night shift workers have a 60 percent higher on-the-job accident risk. There’s danger on the road too, with 20 percent of Australian road fatalities attributable to fatigue.”

Professor David Hillman, Chair of Sleep Health Foundation said it is important to address the issue of fatigue among shift workers.

“With so many ill-effects, it’s absolutely imperative that we develop new ways to better understand what’s happening inside the brains and bodies of our shift workers and use this knowledge to lessen the burden on them,” said Prof, Hillman.

The researchers are also assessing the alertness of 50 nurses and medical staff at Melbourne’s Austin Health during work shifts to come up with ways to improve alertness and minimise risks of road and workplace accidents.

“The impact of shift work on the sleep, alertness, productivity and safety of these healthcare workers is likely to be significant but we’re also hoping to discover some factors that make it harder on some staff than on others,” said CRC’s Project Leader Dr. Tracey Sletten said.

Sleep deprivation, which many shift workers have to endure can lead to serious health and safety conditions including serious injuries, diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases.

To protect workers from the health and safety risks associated with shift work, employers should establish control measures which may include planning work schedules and rosters, providing adequate facilities for rest and sleep, and developing a fatigue policy for all workers.

More information about the study can be accessed online.

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