Sleep Disorders | Sleep Review
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society (SRS) have published evidence-based guiding principles designed to help employers determine optimal hours for their workplace. With a process that evaluates risks, considers countermeasures, and puts in place an informed approach to determining and evaluating shift length, employers can make shift length decisions that manage fatigue-related risks while maintaining high productivity and safety.
“In the past, shift length counseling has set maximum shift length in a unified approach that mainly focuses on physical fatigue,” says Indira Gurubhagavatula, MD, MPH, correspondent author of the article and a doctor in sleep medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine from the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia, in a communication. “Rather than providing a single, general recommendation, these new guiding principles take a more holistic view of setting individual shift times for each individual workplace, taking into account not just physical fatigue, but also mental fatigue, time of day, work demands, safety risks, lifestyle factors and health.”
Determining the optimal length of a work shift is an important issue that affects performance and safety – both in the workplace and in the community. Organizations, communities, workers, and regulators struggle to best manage shift length. Scientific knowledge, essential to developing effective solutions, has grown significantly in recent years and provides a foundation for making informed shift length decisions while maintaining the integrity and feasibility of workplace operations.
When setting shift times, the Guiding Principles recommend an approach that includes three strategies:
- Assess risk factors
- consider countermeasures and
- adopt an informed approach.
Assess risk factors
The length of work shifts has been linked to negative effects on performance, safety and health, especially when the shifts do not match a worker’s biological clock. Shift times, workload factors, commute time, other human time demands, and individual biological factors all contribute to the effects of shift length.
“An overall assessment of the risk factors associated with working shifts in a given environment is key to making informed decisions about the optimal shift length in that environment,” said senior author Hans Van Dongen, PhD, director of the Sleep and Performance Research Center in Washington State University at Spokane, in a press release.
In the workplace, countermeasure tools and strategies can be used to reduce or manage risks associated with extended work shifts. For example, some aim to improve sleep through napping or improve alertness through strategic caffeine consumption. Other countermeasures target the outcomes of operational risk; Examples are quality controls, warning systems and team-based work strategies.
The choice of countermeasures should be based on the assessment of the risks to be managed. Once implemented, both positive and negative impacts should be monitored to identify unintended consequences and assess opportunities for improvement.
Introduce an informed approach
Determining suitable shift durations often requires finding an optimal compromise between competing goals. To ensure everyone understands the tradeoffs, the shift length decision making process should be fully informed, transparent, and based on science. It should involve representatives from all stakeholders, and those whose lives and livelihoods would be directly affected by changes in shift length should be encouraged to participate in the decision-making process.
Any changes to shift work policies should be monitored and assessed, with corrective action taken in the event of any unintended consequences.
The paper with the recommendations and the supporting scientific findings “Guiding principles for determining the length of the work shift and the treatment of the effects of the length of the work shift on performance, safety and health” was published on July 15, 2021 in the Journal of Clinical. jointly publishes Schlafmedizin and SCHLAF.
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