FIFO workers suffering from extreme sleep loss

Fly-in fly-out (FIFO) roster design has led to shift workers experiencing significant sleep loss and being at a higher risk of developing sleep disorders, according to recent research. 

Edith Cowan University (ECU) conducted a study monitoring the sleeping habits of 75 FIFO shift workers in Australia. 

Study participants wore a sleep and activity tracking device for three weeks over a two-and-one work rotation, which comprises seven day shifts, followed by seven night shifts and then a week off. 

The research found day shifts starting before 6am and requiring a wake-up time of 4am were reducing the opportunity to sleep and resulted in significant sleep loss prior to the shift. 

Research supervisor Dr Ian Dunican said the sleep loss may result in poor alertness and fatigue during a shift. 

“The nature of the roster means people are typically working shifts in excess of 12 hours, plus travel, time for eating, exercise and downtime,” he said. 

“When all these activities are combined it leaves little opportunity to get eight hours of sleep; the reality is many workers are getting less than seven hours of sleep per night.” 

The study found up to 60 per cent of the participants were at risk of developing sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea and shift work disorder, which can contribute further to sleep loss if not treated. 

Shift work is common in the mining industry as mining companies need to run their operations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 

However, Dunican said it was concerning to find such high proportions of FIFO workers experiencing sleep loss and reduced alertness during a shift. 

“This creates a largely preventable health and safety risk,” he said. 

“Companies are encouraged to reassess their roster designs to ensure workers are adequately rested. 

“Even small changes to shift start and finish times can significantly decrease risk, improve sleep opportunities whilst not affecting production.” 

Education on good sleep health practices and healthy lifestyles, along with sleep disorders screening and treatment programs, should be provided to help support the sleep health of shift workers. 


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