The National Sleep Foundation released the results for the 2012 Sleep in America poll this month. The results may be alarming for safety advocates and those looking to reduce aviation accidents and other transportation industry mistakes. Of the 202 pilots who responded, roughly one in five acknowledged that they made a serious error while working because they were tired. Roughly 25 percent admitted that sleepiness has a negative impact on their work at least once every week. The problem seems to extend beyond the total sleep time available to pilots and others in the transportation industry.
Pilots, train operators, truck drivers and transportation workers in general tend to work longer shifts than those in other industries. Pilots and truck drivers average more than 10 hours per shift, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Pilots also average a commute of more than 45 minutes. This is nearly 12 minutes longer than non-transportation workers. The long hours and time spent getting to and from work both contribute to a lack of sleep, and therefore to increased lapses at work caused by sleep deprivation.
Most transportation workers, particularly pilots and train operators work varying hours or during unusual times. Workers who do not have the same hours day in and day out tend to get less quality sleep and feel tired when they are awake, according to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The long shifts, unpredictable hours and working when most people are asleep all work together to deprive transportation workers of the rest they need.
Several changes have been proposed recently to address exhaustion in truck drivers and pilots. Taken as a whole, the transportation industry needs to address the situation of sleepy operators. Trains, buses, taxis, planes and trucks have the potential to harm countless people if their operators are not properly rested.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, "One in Five Pilots Report a Serious Error Related to Sleepiness," by Andrea Petersen, 5 March 2012