From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Australian Study Finds Worker Age a Factor in Shift Work Performance

Researches at The Centre for Sleep Research at the University of South Australia have identified worker age as a significant factor in the worker performance during shiftwork. Previous research has shown that older shift workers experience more sleep disruption and maladaption to shift work, and that this combined with longer hours at work may lead to considerable reductions in performance when compared to younger workers.

The study done by K. Reida and Drew Dawson, “Comparing performance on a simulated 12 hour shift rotation in young and older subjects.” was published in the January 2001, edition if the journal Occupational Environmental Medicine.

The study looked at two groups of workers. The mean age of workers in group one was 21.2 years, and group two was 43.9 years. Subjects participated in a simulated 12 hour shifts in both day and night conditions. Neurobehavioural performance was measured every hour. The results showed that while the younger subjects were able to maintain performance across both night and day shifts, the older group saw a significant decrease in performance during the night shift. Results also showed that older subjects consistently performed lower than the younger subjects in a 12 hour shift.

Studies undertaken by the Centre For Sleep Research include investigations into:

  • Development and implementation of fitness-for-work testing. In particular, the measurement of fatigue related impairment in the workplace using computer based performance testing.
  • The relationship between hours of work, fatigue and work performance.
  • Exploring the impact of shiftwork on organisations, employees and the community.
  • The neuroendocrine determinants of sleep and sleep disorders, particularly in the elderly.

The Centre also has resources available on the web for those more interested in shiftwork. The web address is

Professor Drew Dawson is the Director of the Centre for Sleep Research at the University of South
Australia. He is a member of the Australian Psychological Society College of Organisational Psychologists and also one of the principal research concentrations of the National ARC Key Centre in Human Factors
and Applied Cognitive Psychology.

The Centre for Sleep Research is funded through grants from various government agencies and industry. Current granting agencies include ARC and WorkSafe Australia. In addition the Centre has a significant industry consultancy service.