Reporter 429, 18 January 1999


New software proves a shift in time can save body and mind

The mental health and family life of shift-workers can be significantly improved by making simple changes to rotas, according to a University psychologist who has designed a unique tool to analyse - and change - shiftwork schedules.

The effects of shiftwork are well documented. As well as disrupting family and social life, it can disturb sleep cycles and induce chronic fatigue - leading to possible reduced stress tolerance, irritability and depression.

Shift work can also lead to decreased alertness and performance impairment while the workers are on-shift, with corresponding negative effects on productivity, greater sickness absence and increased potential for accidents.

After spending years studying these physical and psycological effects of shiftwork with workers, managers and occupational health practitioners, Dr Lawrence Smith now believes he has a solution.

The 'Shiftcheck' software analyses specific features of a shift rota (the rest day schedule and the rotation pattern for example) and then points out potential problems.

Trial results in manufacturing organisations have been impressive. They show that improvements to poorly-designed schedules can produce a 30% increase in work satisfaction and a 20% decrease in work-related stress problems.

"Society has come to rely increasingly on men and women who work outside normal hours," said Dr Smith. "But in many cases those designing the rota either do not work shifts themselves or have forgotten how punishing shiftwork can be."

Further trials of the software are currently ongoing in hospitals, other manufacturing organisations and the police force.

"In some industries employees bodies and minds are routinely pushed beyond design limits," said Dr Smith.

"Whilst there may be no alternative the shiftwork for many occupations, employers who use Shiftcheck can at least help to ensure that disruption to staff is minimised."

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