How to Improve Safety, Performance, and Productivity in Night Shift Workers

Fifteen percent of the U.S. full-time workforce works shifts outside of a consistent, day-time schedule putting these shift workers at increased risk of fatigue and Shift Work Disorder and companies at an increased risk of accidents and errors. Further compounding the risk, a significant portion of night-shift and swing-shift workers are in safety-sensitive industries such as transportation, healthcare, utilities, mining, aviation, and manufacturing.

The symptoms of Shift Work Disorder, especially difficulty staying alert and excessive sleepiness, have profound negative impacts on both safety and productivity at work putting your company at risk of accidents and errors.

Sleep-deprived workers make more mistakes, take more sick leave, can be moody and more difficult to work with, and they often suffer temporary or permanent health problems (Bates). The following are findings from research studies that demonstrate the impact of shift-work and circadian disruption on work accidents, errors, and productivity.

There are many risks that can be attributed to the circadian disruption associated with night and swing shift work including:


– Work accidents predominantly occur during night shifts. (Ackerstedt, Wright)
– Single vehicle truck accidents occur most often during the night shift. (NTSB)
– 30-40% of all US truck accidents are fatigue-related. (NTSB)
– A 30-50% increase in accident risk during the night shift in one auto manufacturing plant. (Smith, Folkard, Poole)
– Fatal occupational accidents were higher in night shift workers. (Akerstedt, et al)


– Errors in meter readings at a gasworks peaked on the night shift, in a study spanning 20 years. (Bjerner, Holm, Swensson)
– The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was due to human error related to the night shift and scheduling. (Mitler, et al).
– Nurses on rotating night shifts were twice as likely to have a reported accident or error. (Gold, et al)
– Reducing interns’ extended work shifts decreased attentional failures during night shifts. (Mitler, et al)

Decreases in worker productivity:

– Sleep deprivation due to night shift work caused significant declines in worker productivity. (Vidacek, et al)
– Telephone operators connected calls significantly more slowly during night shifts. (Browne)
– The speed of spinning threads in a textile mill went down during night shifts. (Wojtczak-Jaroszowa)


In spite of the well-documented downsides, shift work, including swing and night shifts, is an essential part of the economy and a non-negotiable reality for many businesses and organizations.

The good news is that with proper tracking and management, the risk of accidents and errors caused by impairment due to fatigue and Shift Work Disorder can be effectively mitigated with the PRISM(TM) Fatigue Management System from Predictive Safety.

PRISM | Gives You the Power to Predict & Mitigate Risk Due to Fatigue

PRISM works with Predictive Safety’s AlertMeter® to provide comprehensive worker fatigue management using real-time data derived from every worker, every shift that is instantly assessed via a proprietary algorithm derived from the worker’s historical baseline to accurately predict when a worker is at risk for fatigue.

Having this critical information available to both the workers, who can see immediately if they test out of range, and supervisors allows for a proactive approach and for effective countermeasures to be engaged. This approach has also been shown to give workers a high degree of confidence in management and increase worker buy-in for creating a culture of safety.

Companies that have implemented PRISM have been able to engage the following proactive solutions:

  • Schedule workers strategically to reduce fatigue risk and introduce countermeasures during fatigue hotspots.
  • Keep worker schedules consistent and predictable so workers don’t have to constantly readjust their sleep patterns.
  • Avoid scheduling overtime or double shifts or when such scheduling is necessary, to more closely monitor workers and engage effective counter-measures right on-sight.
  • Proactively limit consecutive night shifts.
  • Implement strategic breaks with proven-effective countermeasures including opportunities to hydrate, have a light snack, or exercise to promote alertness.
  • Designate areas and times for night shift workers to nap.
  • Use music or ambient noise to ward off fatigue during night shifts.
  • Install appropriate lighting to help keep workers alert.
  • Provide education night shift workers on fatigue countermeasures. Click here to download our handout.

Watch the brief video below to learn more about how your company can employ 21st Century analytics to proactively and cost-effectively reduce the risk of accidents and errors. 

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See how AlertMeter® provided company management with a way to test for impairment while ensuring a consistent application of policy and fairness for all employees.


Akerstedt T, Fredlund P, Gillberg M, Jansson B. A prospective study of fatal occupational accidents — relationship to sleeping difficulties and occupational factors. J Sleep Res. 2002 Mar;11(1):69-71. DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2869.2002.00287.x. PMID: 11869429.

Akerstedt, T., & Wright, K. P., Jr (2009). Sleep Loss and Fatigue in Shift Work and Shift Work Disorder. Sleep medicine clinics, 4(2), 257–271.

Bates, S. (2019, August 16). How HR Can Help Sleepy Shift Workers. SHRM.

Bjerner, et al. (1955). Diurnal variation in mental performance; a study of three-shift workers. British journal of industrial medicine, 12(2), 103–110.
Brooks, M. (2017, August 17). Shift Work Impairs Cognitive Function. Medscape.

Browne, R. C. (1949). The day and night performance of teleprinter switchboard operators. Occupational Psychology, 23, 121–126.

Gold, D. R., Rogacz, S., Bock, N., Tosteson, T. D., Baum, T. M., Speizer, F. E., & Czeisler, C. A. (1992). Rotating shift work, sleep, and accidents related to sleepiness in hospital nurses. American journal of public health, 82(7), 1011–1014.

Government of Canada, C. C. for O. H. and S. Rotational Shiftwork: OSH Answers. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Bjerner, et al. (1955). Diurnal variation in mental performance; a study of three-shift workers. British journal of industrial medicine, 12(2), 103–110.

Mitler, M. M., Carskadon, M. A., Czeisler, C. A., Dement, W. C., Dinges, D. F., & Graeber, R. C. (1988). Catastrophes, sleep, and public policy: Consensus Report. Sleep, 11(1), 100–109.

Nichols, H. (n.d.). Five ways to deal with night shifts. Medical News Today.

National Transportation Safety Board. 1995. Factors that affect fatigue in heavy truck accidents. Volume 2: Case summaries. Safety Study NTSB/SS/95/02. Washington, DC.

Shift Work Disorder: Symptoms & Risks: Sleep Foundations. Sleep Foundation. (2020, October 16).

Smith L, Folkard S, Poole CJ. Increased injuries on night shift. Lancet. 1994 Oct 22;344(8930):1137-9. DOI: 10.1016/s0140-6736(94)90636-x. PMID: 7934499.

Vidacek, et. al.  (1986) Productivity on a weekly rotating shift system: circadian adjustment and sleep deprivation effects? Ergonomics, 29:12, 1583-1590, DOI: 10.1080/00140138608967271

What are cognitive abilities and skills, and can we boost them? SharpBrains. (2020, August 21).

Wojtczak-Jaroszowa, J., & Jarosz, D. (1987). Chronohygienic and chrono-social aspects of industrial accidents. Progress in clinical and biological research, 227B, 415–426.

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