One in four pilots admit to fatigue impact

Pilots and train operators are most likely to report sleep-related job performance and safety problems, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) 2012 Sleep in America poll.

It is the first poll to ask transportation professionals, including pilots, train operators, truck, bus, taxi and limo drivers about their sleep habits and work performance.

The results of the poll are striking. About one-quarter of train operators (26%) and pilots (23%) admit that sleepiness has affected their job performance at least once a week, compared to about one in six non-transportation workers (17%).

Perhaps more disturbingly, a significant number say that sleepiness has caused safety problems on the job. One in five pilots (20%) admit that they have made a serious error and one in six train operators (18%) and truck drivers (14%) say that they have had a “near miss” due to sleepiness.

Sleepiness has also played a role in car accidents commuting to and from work. Pilots and train operators are significantly more likely than non-transportation workers (6% each, compared to 1%) to say that they have been involved in a car accident due to sleepiness while commuting.

“Driving home from work after a long shift is associated with crashes due to sleepiness,” says Dr. Sanjay Patel, a sleep researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.  “We should all be concerned that pilots and train operators report car crashes due to sleepiness at a rate that is six times greater than that of other workers.”

Among all workers surveyed, train operators and pilots report the most work day sleep dissatisfaction. Almost two-thirds of train operators (57%) and one-half of pilots (50%) say they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on work nights, compared to 44% of truck drivers and 42% of non-transportation workers. Bus, taxi, and limo drivers report the best work day sleep satisfaction, with about one-third (29%) saying they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on work nights.

“We found that although pilots are especially focused on obtaining adequate sleep, one in ten can still be classified as ‘sleepy.’ This is not acceptable. Who among us wants to take a one in ten chance of flying on a plane with a sleepy pilot?” says CPT Edward Edens, PhD of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.  

Many transportation workers cite their schedule as a major contributor to sleep problems. Almost one-half of train operators (44%) and more than one-third of pilots (37%) report that their current work schedule does not allow adequate time for sleep, compared to about one-fourth of non-transportation workers and truck drivers (27% each) and one-fifth of bus, taxi and limo drivers (20%).

Time off between shifts may play a role in transportation workers’ sleepiness. Non-transportation workers report having an average of 14.2 hours off between shifts, compared to 12.9 hours for pilots; 12.5 for train operators; 12.1 for truck drivers; and 11.2 hours for bus, taxi, and limo drivers. If given one more hour off between work shifts, over one-half of pilots (56%) and train operators (54%) report that they would use that hour for sleep.

Long commutes cut into transportation workers’ already shortened time between shifts. Pilots report the longest commutes with 37% saying it takes more than an hour to get to work from home. Pilots and train operators have the highest average commute time of 45.5 minutes and 31 minutes, respectively, compared to a 23.8 minute average for non-transportation workers.  Other research has consistently found that longer commute times have been associated with shorter individual sleep times.

 

 

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