OBJECTIVE: To evaluate a new work schedule at a Finnish steel mill with special attention to effects on older workers. The schedule was designed to improve sleep before the morning shift, and alertness during the morning shift, by delaying shift start and end times. METHODS: Evaluation was by a shiftwork health and safety questionnaire, recordings of work-rest-sleep cycles with activity monitors worn on the wrist, daily diaries, and on site computerised testing of fatigue and alertness by the NIOSH fatigue test battery. RESULTS: The one hour delay in shift starting times improved sleep before the morning shift, and improved waking fatigue, sleepiness, and performance during the morning shift. Evening and night shift sleep and fatigue or sleepiness, however, were affected negatively by the new work schedule, but the results for those shifts were less consistent across the various measures. Despite the improvements, most workers were not satisfied with the new schedule because of social concerns. Few interactions of age with the new work schedule were found, suggesting that the effects of the work schedule were uniform across age groups. CONCLUSION: A change of as little as one hour in shift starting times can improve morning shift sleep and alertness, but there are trade offs from these improvements in terms of night shift effects and social considerations. It seems, then, that optimal shift start and end times for an entire organisation are difficult to institute on a wide scale. Tailoring shift schedules to subgroups within an organisation is suggested.
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