OBJECTIVES: The generally agreed view is that there is no ideal shift system, and that most systems will have both advantages and disadvantages. As such, attention has been placed on trying to identify good and bad features of shift systems, with a view to minimising the possible ill health as a consequence of shiftwork. The present study focuses on the duration of the shift and looks at the implications for individual health, wellbeing, and alertness during the shift of extending the shift from the traditional eight hours to 12. METHODS: Two groups of chemical workers, one working 12 hour shifts and the other working eight hour shifts, took part. All completed a modified version of the standard shiftwork index (SSI), a set of self reported questionnaires related to health and wellbeing. RESULTS: The two groups did not differ on most outcome measures, although the differences that did exist suggested advantages for the 12 hour shift workers over the eight hour shift workers; with the notable exception of rated alertness at certain times of day. CONCLUSIONS: The results are explained in terms of the design of the 12 hour shift system and the specific sequencing of shifts that seem to minimise the potential for the build up of fatigue. Although the current data moderately favour 12 hour shifts, a cautionary note is sounded with regard to the implications of the alertness ratings for performance and safety.
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