World experts on shift work meet for WSU-organized conference

Busy city night scene with well-lit skyscrapers, car lights, and constructionMany of the world’s leading experts on shift work are converging on the Inland Northwest this week to present and discuss issues related to night shifts and non-standard working hours. Organized by the Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center on behalf of the Working Time Society, the 24th International Symposium on Shiftwork and Working Time—Shiftwork2019—will bring together scientists and practitioners focused on improving the health and safety of shift workers.

Night shifts and other non-traditional work schedules are increasingly common. It is estimated that up to a quarter of the workforce works non-standard hours. In today’s 24/7 society, shift work helps keep economies running around the clock and has been adopted by a wide range of industries, including transportation, manufacturing, energy production, health care, emergency response, and the military. While it provides organizations with continuity of operations and economic gain, shift work also comes with challenges related to the safety and health of workers and the general public.

“Those who work nights or other nonstandard shifts are at increased risk of a wide range of health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer,” said Shiftwork2019 co-organizer Kimberly Honn, an assistant professor in the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and a core faculty member of the university’s Sleep and Performance Research Center. “And shift workers’ schedules often put them out of sync with their bodies’ natural biological rhythms, which has the potential to reduce productivity and increase safety risks. This conference provides an opportunity for researchers and practitioners to meet so they can share the latest science and work collaboratively toward solutions to the most pressing issues.”

Shiftwork2019 brings together more than 190 participants from 19 countries for a weeklong program that includes more than 70 symposium and oral presentations and more than 100 poster presentations. In addition to presenting the latest research on shift worker alertness, safety, and health, they will also review recent developments in working time arrangements and policies and discuss fatigue risk management and health intervention solutions.

The conference includes a strong presence of researchers from the WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center, as well as scientists, postdoctoral researchers, and graduate students from universities and research institutions across the U.S. and Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Sweden, Brazil, Denmark, and Germany, among other countries. First organized exactly 50 years ago, the conference has been in North America only once before.

“Having Shiftwork2019 in the region provides us with an opportunity to showcase WSU’s prominence in research on the effects of sleep and the biological clock on metabolism, health, cognitive performance, and behavior,” said co-organizer Hans Van Dongen, director of the WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center and a professor in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. Van Dongen, who serves on the board of directors for the Working Time Society—the academic counter part of the Scientific Committee on Shiftwork and Working Time of the International Commission on Occupational Health—first took steps to bring the symposium to the area more than three years ago.

In addition to organizing the conference taking place in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, Van Dongen and Honn are also hosting a preconference event—Fatigue Risk Management Industry Day—at the WSU Health Sciences Spokane campus. That event features several of the international experts attending the conference as they lead sessions that provide industry representatives with advice on reducing risks associated with fatigue in the workplace.

“For the WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center to be given the opportunity to host an international symposium of this magnitude is truly a testament to their outstanding reputation among peers across the globe,” said Daryll DeWald, vice president of health sciences and chancellor of WSU Health Sciences Spokane. “It helps to get our health sciences campus firmly planted on the world map and reinforces the university’s commitment to become one of the nation’s top 25 public research universities by 2030.”