This brief paper reviews the available published literature on shiftwork and safety that allows the relative risk of “accidents” or injuries associated with specific features of shift systems to be estimated. Three main trends in risk are discussed, namely that (i) risk is higher on the night shift, and to a lesser extent the afternoon shift, than on the morning shift, (ii) risk increases over a span of shifts, especially so if they are night shifts, and (iii) risk increases with increasing shift length over eight hours. We discuss that some of these trends are not entirely consistent with predictions derived from considerations of the circadian variations in sleep propensity or rated sleepiness, and consider factors relating to sleep that may underlie the observed trends in risk. Finally, the practical implications of the trends in risk for the design of safer shift systems are discussed.
2005 National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health