The design of shift systems

Ergonomics. 1993 Jan-Mar;36(1-3):15-28. doi: 10.1080/00140139308967850.


All shift systems have advantages and drawbacks. There is no single 'optimum shift system' which can be used in industry or commerce at all work places. However, there are shift systems which are more favourable, and others which are less favourable, in the context of physiological, psychological, and social recommendations for the design of shift systems. This article discusses the following recommendations: (1) Nightwork should be reduced as much as possible. If this is not possible, quickly rotating shift systems are preferable to slowly rotating ones. Permanent nightwork does not seem to be advisable for the majority of shiftworkers. (2) Extended workdays (9-12 h) should only be contemplated, if the nature of work and the workload are suitable; the shift system is designed to minimize the accumulation of fatigue; there are adequate arrangements for cover of absentees; overtime will not be added; toxic exposure is limited; and if it is likely that a complete recovery after work and a high acceptance of the working time arrangement are possible. (3) An early start for the morning shift should be avoided. In all shiftsystems flexible working time arrangements are realizable. The highest flexibility is possible in 'time autonomous groups'. (4) Quick changeovers (e.g., from night to afternoon shift at the same day or from afternoon to morning shift) must be avoided. The number of consecutive working days should be limited to 5-7 days. Every shift system should include some free weekends with at least two successive full days off. (5) The forward rotation of shifts (phase delay, clockwise rotation) would seem to be recommendable at least in continuous shift systems. Besides the design of a shift system, implementation strategy is of particular importance for the acceptance of the shift system.

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Humans
  • Work / standards*
  • Work Schedule Tolerance*
  • Workload / standards