New ‘alert-safe’ rostering system promises safer shift work and fewer workplace accidents

14 October 2021

Funded by the Alertness, Safety and Productivity Cooperative Research Centre, the AlertSafe™ rostering system has already been trialled in hospitals across Victoria, including Austin Health and Monash Health.

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 - doesn’t create a work health and safety risk.

The AlertSafe™ system is capable of alertness analysis, roster design, roster building and management, leading to better outcomes for staff and management.

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 Health and the University of Sydney.

The algorithms developed by the Department of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence in the Faculty of IT, 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, says AlertSafe™ tracks the impact of shift work on each individual staff member during the rostering process and takes into consideration 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.

Associate Professor Mark Howard, a sleep and respiratory physician from Austin Health, says healthcare workers are the biggest shift working population in the country and the recent COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the stress they’ve been placed under.

“There’s been a lack of a systematic approach when it comes to effectively rostering shift workers so that they 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,” Associate Professor Howard said.

“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.”

Director of Engagement and Translation at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health and Chair of the Sleep Health Foundation, Professor Shantha Rajaratnam, said: “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.”.

The platform, which was commercialised by Opturion, has also been used in various construction projects, engineering applications and medical transport. Ambulance Victoria and the Victorian Level Crossing Removal Program have already been implementing AlertSafe™ within their rostering schedules.

Managing Director of Opturion, Dr Alan Dormer, says the system has applications across a number of sectors.

“The AlertSafe™ system makes irregular working hours and shift work safer and more productive by dramatically reducing incidents and improving service outcomes. This means the platform can be applied across a variety of industries including healthcare, the police force, emergency services, airlines, trucking, construction and mining,” said Dr Dormer.

AlertSafe™ was developed alongside a personalised sleep schedule app, called Zest, which optimises individual sleep to improve mental health outcomes. The mobile phone app, which is currently in the testing phase, has already shown improvements amongst shift workers who have reported improved sleep and overall mental wellbeing.

To learn more about AlertSafe™, please visit here.

This article was first published on Monash news. Read the original article.