New grant to address fatigue management in shift workers

Congratulations to Dr Andrew Phillips, who is the recipient of an ARC Discovery Grant aimed at addressing worker fatigue, and making safer work environments for millions of shift workers.

Andrew Phillips.jpgWorkplace fatigue in Australia costs billions of dollars in lost productivity each year, as well as being a major cause of workplace accidents. The best predictors of fatigue are an individual's body clock time (circadian rhythm) and recent sleep/wake patterns. However there is currently no method for measuring circadian rhythms in real-time, nor for accurately predicting how an individual will sleep and perform on a given work schedule.

Recent findings by Dr Phillips and his collaborators, including co-investigator Associate Professor Sean Cain, have shown that there are large differences between individuals in how the circadian clock responds to light.

Dr Phillips’ project will develop predictive models that are accurate at the individual level, by leveraging measures of an individual’s light sensitivity. This will allow models to be individually calibrated, which will transform existing approaches to fatigue management.

“The body's 24-hour clock regulates when we feel sleepy or alert. In shift workers, disrupted sleep and rhythms can lead to fatigue and costly, often deadly, workplace accidents,” explains Dr Phillips.

“We also know that disruption of the circadian clock is a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, cancer, and depression, but we currently have no cost-effective way of tracking and reducing this threat. Our aim with this project is to develop models that accurately predict body timing, sleep/wake patterns, and performance for an individual, requiring only a simple activity/light sensor and an assessment of the body clock's sensitivity to light.”

Through the project, Dr Phillips hopes to generate the basic science to easily and cost-effectively determine an individual's circadian timing, putting Australia at the forefront of a new paradigm in which body clock time can be routinely measured to improve health, productivity, and safety.