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In our 24/7 world, shift work is common. Shift workers are susceptible to sleep deprivation and fatigue, leading to decreased physical and mental capabilities, increased incident rates, and negative health consequences. Many strategies used to manage shift work focus on administrative controls (such as work scheduling and breaks) and employee behavior (sleep strategies and schedules outside of work).  But when designing jobs for shift workers, it is also important to consider engineering controls to reduce or eliminate risk. Here are some examples:

  • Eliminate safety hazards. Fatigue can lead to automatic behavior, during which the person is performing routine duties but is not cognitively aware. An employee may appear to be performing a job, but is not aware enough to notice and avoid hazards. It is always best to eliminate identified safety risks, rather than rely on employee behavior, and it’s particularly important when your workers are fatigued.
  • Make mistakes impossible. If employees are installing options, design parts so that they are impossible to install on the incorrect option. Fatigue reduces cognitive performance, and employees may not recognize their own cognitive deficit. They are more likely to install the wrong part if the only way to identify it is a small mark, but probably will notice if the part doesn’t fit at all.
  • Follow force guidelines. It’s always important to make sure the job can be completed within worker capabilities. Fatigue decreases physical ability, so if a part requires a high installation force, a night shift worker may not have the physical capability to install it correctly. And, a fatigued worker with reduced cognitive performance may not notice that the part was installed incorrectly, sending the defect down process.

These are important for all workers, but especially for shift workers who may not be at their peak performance, cognitively and mentally.