How Atypical Work Schedules Affect Performance

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Date:
Monday, December 10, 2012

prone to driving accidents. One study found that more than three quarters (79.5%) of nurses working the night shift were 4 times more likely to have a drowsy driving incident that nurses working a day shift. (Scott, et al, 2007) Residents frequently on call have nearly 7 times the risk of motor vehicle accidents compared with those working less demanding work schedules. (Kowalenko, T. et al, 2007) Commercial truck drivers are especially susceptible to drowsy driving. One study found these drivers in the United States and Canada averaged less than 5 hours of sleep per day and frequently drive during night hours. (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 1996) The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that drowsy driving was probably the cause of more than half of crashes leading to a truck driver’s death. (NTSB, 1990a,b) For each truck driver fatality, another three to four people are killed. (NHTSA, 1994)

Shift work also makes workers more prone to workplace accidents, with studies showing a boosted rate of accidents linked to the use of sharp instruments and items by medical personnel, as well as medication and diagnostic errors and increased patient death. (Ayas, et al 2006; Lockley, et al, 2006; Barger, et al, 2006.) In industrial settings, the risk of both accidents and injuries increases by more than 30 percent on night shifts, rises over successive night shifts, and increases exponentially with successive hours on a shift. (Folkard, et al, 2003)

Shift work productivity
Presumably due to the influence of circadian rhythms and lack of sleep, studies show that productivity of workers is highest during daylight hours. Switchboard operators, meter readers, and textile workers have the highest productivity between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., after which their productivity dips progressively to a low point occurring 3-5 a.m. Productivity levels do not return to average levels until after 6 a.m. (Folkhard, 2003) A more recent study of medical resident productivity in an emergency room found that residents working 12-hour shifts evaluated significantly less patients per hour than residents working 9-hour shifts. (Jeanmonod et al, 2008) Shift work has also been linked to