Rostering system optimises shift work for trucking, construction workers

Friday, 29 October, 2021 | Supplied by: Opturion Pty Ltd

Rostering system optimises shift work for trucking, construction workers

According to Safe Work Australia, shift work and irregular or long working hours can adversely affect the health, safety and wellbeing of workers. Strategies for alertness management are becoming increasingly important, and everyone in the workplace has a responsibility to ensure impaired alertness — or fatigue — does not create a work health and safety risk. Optimisation technology company Opturion and researchers from Monash University have developed a cloud-based rostering system to improve alertness, productivity and safety among shift workers. Funded by the Alertness, Safety and Productivity Cooperative Research Centre, the AlertSafe rostering system has been trialled in hospitals across Victoria, including Austin Health and Monash Health, with hospital studies reporting a 15% reduction in medical incidents as a result of staff fatigue. The AlertSafe system is capable of alertness analysis, roster design, roster building and management, leading to better outcomes for staff and management.

The platform, which was commercialised by Opturion, has been used in various construction projects, engineering applications and medical transport. Ambulance Victoria and the Victorian Level Crossing Removal Program have also implemented AlertSafe within their rostering schedules. Doctor Alan Dormer, Managing Director of Opturion, said the system has applications across a number of sectors and noted that the AlertSafe system makes irregular working hours and shift work safer and more productive by reducing incidents and improving service outcomes. “This means the platform can be applied across a variety of industries including health care, the police force, emergency services, airlines, trucking, construction and mining,” Dr Dormer said.

The platform was developed in a collaboration with the Faculty of Information Technology (IT) and the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health at Monash University, the Institute for Breathing and Sleep at Austin University and the University of Sydney. The algorithms developed for the platform use a sophisticated mathematical model based on the underlying biology of sleep to estimate the impact of work schedules on alertness levels. Professor Mark Wallace from the Faculty of IT said AlertSafe tracks the impact of shift work on each individual staff member during the rostering process and considers new alertness management guidelines. “AlertSafe generates rosters using artificial intelligence-based optimisation, which infers the consequences of each assignment of a shift to a person who can and cannot be assigned to other shifts. The platform then determines smarter ways to improve a roster time until it meets the preference needs of the roster and the people working within it,” Professor Wallace said.

Professor Shantha Rajaratnam, Director of Engagement and Translation at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health and the Chair of the Sleep Health Foundation, added that sleep is integral to optimal health, productivity and safety in the workplace. “Interventions, like the AlertSafe, that improve sleep, can significantly reduce accidents and improve the health and wellbeing of shift workers,” Professor Rajaratnam said. The AlertSafe system was developed alongside a personalised sleep schedule app, called Zest, which optimises individual sleep to improve mental health outcomes. The app, which is currently in the testing phase, has already shown improvements amongst shift workers who have reported improved sleep and overall mental wellbeing.

Associate Professor Mark Howard, a sleep and respiratory physician from Austin Health, said the recent COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the stress faced by healthcare workers, who he posits are the biggest shift-working population in the country. Associate Professor Howard said there has been a lack of a systematic approach when it comes to effectively rostering shift workers so that they can perform their roles safely and effectively. “The trialling of AlertSafe allowed Austin Health to implement rostering changes for our medical staff who are working in an extremely high-pressure environment. The rostering changes have allowed us to carry out shorter rotations, which minimised staff burnout and stress, as well as lowering the adverse medical implications for patients,” Associate Professor Howard said.

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