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Can a tool developed for industry be used to assess fatigue risk in medical rotas? A pilot study of foundation doctors’ rotas in a tertiary centre
  1. Elspeth Cumber1,
  2. Paul Robert Greig2
  1. 1 Policy and Impact, Macmillan Cancer Support, London, UK
  2. 2 Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Elspeth Cumber; elspethcumber{at}


Objectives To determine the feasibility and ease of using a pre-existing health and safety executive fatigue risk calculator to assess doctors’ rotas.

Design Observational.

Setting A large tertiary-referral teaching hospital in the UK.

Participants 95 anonymised foundation years 1 and 2 rotas in General Medicine, General Surgery and Emergency Medicine covering a 4-month period. All rotas provided by rota coordinators were included and assessed.

Interventions Rotas were assessed for two indices: relative risk of fatigue-related errors compared with a ‘2-day, two-night, four-off’ shift pattern and percentage chance of a high score on a standardised sleepiness scale.

Primary and secondary outcome measures Fatigue index (percentage chance of a high score on a standardised sleepiness scale) and risk index (relative risk of fatigue-related errors compared with a ‘2-day, two-night, four-off’ shift pattern) of all shifts on all rotas.

Results Nearly half of all shifts demonstrated increased risk of fatigue-related errors and increased probability of high levels of sleepiness. There was significant interspeciality variation in both indices. These results are based on rotas as opposed to ‘work as done’ and are therefore likely to slightly universally underestimate actual fatigue risks.

Conclusions This preliminary study demonstrates that this tool can be used to compare rotas and guide rota design to minimise risk wherever possible. The calculator guidance clearly states there is no ‘ideal risk’ but that values should be minimised, and a maximum fatigue risk agreed which is deemed acceptable given the nature of work undertaken. This study is intended to demonstrate that fatigue can and should be considered during rota design. We do not suggest that it is used to hold either individuals or organisations to account as there is no evidence for it being used in this way. Further work should assess the practicality of designing medical rotas using this tool to minimise fatigue risk.

  • fatigue
  • human factors
  • patient safety

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  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Contributors Data collection was conducted by EC. Analysis and authorship of the manuscript was conducted jointly by both EC and PRG. There was no patient or public involvement.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval The protocol for this study gained HRA approval (IRAS 208241). The protocol was reviewed by NRES and it was determined ethical review was not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Data available by request from the corresponding author.

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