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Tailored Fatigue Risk Management: Optimising Shift Roster Design

Tuesday, July 02, 2013 by Chris Hocking

The management of fatigue-related risk is one of the biggest safety issues facing industries where shift work is a necessary component of operations. With a myriadof permutations and combinations involved in shift roster design, selecting a work schedule that is 1) appropriate for a given operational environment and 2) can effectively minimise fatigue risks, is a challenging and complex task.

Any fatigue management plan must take into account working time arrangements in order to design a shift roster. These typically include;

  • Scheduling of rosters
  • Number of consecutive shifts
  • Types of shift
  • Maximum hours per shift
  • Maximum hours per roster cycle
  • Break patterns within and between shifts
  • Allowances for overtime scheduling

There are countless variations of shift patterns, with varying combinations of shift duration (eg 8hr, 12 hr), shift types (eg, day, evening, night) and roster cycles.  For example, a survey of Australian coal mining workers found more than 70 distinct patterns of shift work.

With the known performance impairments associated with fatigue, the variability of shift rostering designs complicates the risk management of fatigue, both from fitness-for-work and roster design perspectives. Valid and objective data is required to determine the degree to which a company's shift roster design, or changes therein, impacts on fatigue-related risk.

How to optimise shift roster design

Using objective data to quantify the fatigue levels of specific groups of drivers/operators allows companies to mitigate their exposure to fatigue-related risk by tailoring working time arrangements to suit particular operational settings.

So where does objective data come from?

Using technology to establish a fatigue risk profile

Technology can provide companies with the necessary objective information to evaluate all aspects of their shift roster design by identifying areas of risk that are specific to the operational environment. Establishing a "fatigue risk profile" can identify areas of risk within an existing shift roster design and forms the basis upon which to make informed decisions that are tailored to the unique operational needs of the site.

A fatigue risk profile can provide objective information regarding the times of the day when groups of drivers are most at risk of a fatiguerelated incident. This is typically characterised by increased risk during night shift, particularly during the early hours of the morning.

Keep in mind, that a company's shift roster design can influence the times of the day when fatigue-related risk is greatest.

Evaluating shift roster design

Once the initial fatigue-risk profile has been generated, the data can be further analysed to evaluate all aspects of a company's shift roster design to identify areas of risk within the system that are specific to the operational environment and shift design in use. These can include evaluations of;

  • shift duration,
  • start and end times
  • scheduling of breaks
  • roster cycles
  • scheduling of overtime

Optimisation and continual improvement 

The value of objective data is not only confined to evaluating existing shift roster designs, but can also be used to make evidence-based changes to an existing system and quantify the effectiveness of these changes over time. Using technology to objectively review and evaluate changes to shift roster designs over time allows for continual improvement and optimisation in order to tailor the management of fatigue related risk to suit the needs of specific operational environments.

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