Drowsy workers may as well be drunk

Occupational health and safety researchers from James Cook University have called for the Federal Government to ban rosters that require workers to more than eight consecutive shifts after finding the reaction times of fatigued workers was similar to that of drunk drivers.

Researchers studied fatigue levels in 55 fly-in fly-out mine workers on 28-day rosters of 10-day shifts – five days rest, eight night shifts and five days rests. They found that after more than eight consecutive day shifts, the workers’ reaction times increased beyond what you would expect to see with a blood alcohol concentration of more than 0.05%, compared to their first morning of day shift.

But OH&S expert David Ginpil, a senior consultant with RiskLogic, says that while some industries were very good at managing worker fatigue (the airline industry is a standout) others could do better. “Companies need to recongise that as with any OH&S policy, there are dual benefits for workers and employers.”

But he says a blanket ban on workers taking on eight consecutive shifts would not work in all circumstances. Length of shifts and poor rosters (where workers are not given enough time to recover from long shifts or consecutive shifts) were just as damaging. “I think it comes down to more of a risk assessment based on the individual circumstances of each company.”



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