FIFO shift workers experience significant sleep loss and reduced alertness at work, according to new research.
The study, conducted by Edith Cowan University (ECU), revealed the design of rosters and individual lifestyle behaviours are causing fly-in fly-out (FIFO) shift workers to lose sleep.
ECU monitored the sleeping habits of 75 FIFO shift workers in Australia. Study participants wore a validated sleep and activity tracking device for three weeks over a “two and one” work rotation comprising of seven day shifts, followed by seven night shifts and then one week off.
Participants also answered questions about their sleep patterns and lifestyle behaviours.
Results showed day shifts starting before 6am and requiring a wake-up time of 4am were resulting in significant sleep loss prior to commencing a shift.
Sleep duration was 77 minutes shorter following each night shift and 30 minutes shorter after day shifts, which resulted in an accumulated sleep debt before returning home for a week-long rest period.
According to research supervisor Dr. Ian Dunican, sleep loss could result in poor alertness and fatigue while at work or as shifts accumulate throughout the roster.
“The nature of the roster means people are typically working shifts in excess of 12 hours, plus travel, time for eating, exercise and downtime.”
Dunican said that when all these activities are combined it leaves little opportunity to get the recommended eight hours of sleep, with the reality being many workers get less than seven hours of sleep per night.
Research revealed up to 60 per cent of participants were at risk of developing sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnoea and shift work disorder.
The study is the first to identify the risk of the potential prevalence of sleep disorders in Australian miners.
Other unhealthy lifestyle factors such as high levels of obesity (23 per cent) and hazardous alcohol consumption (36 per cent) could also be contributing to poor sleep behaviours.
According to Dunican, limited down time and struggles with falling asleep might also be influencing alcohol consumption.
“People may be turning to alcohol to help them get to sleep, but it’s actually having a damaging effect on the quality of their sleep and overall health.”
Duncan says that while the high proportion of FIFO workers experiencing acute sleep loss and reduced alertness is concerning, it is a largely preventable health and safety risk.
He recommends companies reassess their roster designs with an emphasis on ensuring workers are adequately rested, with even small changes to shift start and finish times able to significantly decrease risk and improve sleep.
Education on good sleep health practices and healthy lifestyles should be provided to help support the well-being of shift workers, along with sleep disorder screening and treatment programs.
Dunican is currently analysing the effectiveness of a sleep education program and biological feedback via smartphone application for FIFO mine workers to improve sleep and reduce health risks.
The study was published in Applied Ergonomics
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