Award highlights ergonomics benefits of appropriate shift work
"As we in the Western world are living in an aging society and especially an aging workforce, it is of essential importance to create jobs and job conditions in which people can stay healthy and productive till retirement," said Jan de Leede, of the University of Twente in The Netherlands and one of the study's authors. "One of the key issues in shift work is the unhealthy characteristics of working at irregular times in general and during nights and early mornings in particular."
The study, Effects of the New Fast Forward Rotating Five-Shift Roster at a Dutch Steel Company, was given the Best Paper Award by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety and the UK Institute for Ergonomics and Human Factors. The annual honor recognizes the paper published in the journal Ergonomics that best contributes to the advancement of ergonomics.
The study looked at 4,600 shift workers to better understand the effects of relevant shift system characteristics on their health and safety. It examined data on reported accidents, absenteeism due to sickness, and self-reported issues and compared the initial findings to those one year after the implementation of a new shift roster.
The initial rotation, which had been in effect for 25 years, used a backward rotating roster: three night shifts, two days off, three evening shifts, two days off, three morning shifts, and two days off. In the new roster, employees worked successively two morning and two evening shifts, one day off, two night shifts, and three days off.
The change came about due to a proposal by the company's medical department to go with the forward rotating roster. The researchers found overall improvement in health outcomes with the new shift schedule.
Absence figures decreased 0.6 percent. Improvements in health indicators were also found, such as with fatigue, musculoskeletal complaints, and health and workload.
"We found the most positive effects of the new schedule concerning health and fatigue for the older workers," de Leede said. "The ergonomic recommendations for 7x24 hour work environments, such as fast-forward schedule and limited number of consecutive night shifts, are important to adhere to, especially for older workers. With these recommendations, we think more older workers may stay fit and productive till the end of their careers."
De Leede said the researchers also found that having input of workers into the changing shift system contributed to its overall success, especially for older workers. He believes more participation in designing working time schedules is warranted.
"It is not one schedule that will fit all people and all generations," de Leede said. "Therefore, a better personal fit is needed. Systems like self-rostering are offering more personalized schedules. That is another strategy to follow in order to stay fit in the 7x24 hour workplaces of our society."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
May 16, 2011
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