eastbound I-80 – drowsy driver warningAbout one-fourth of train operators and pilots say their job performance is affected by sleepiness at least once a week (as compared with about one in six non-transportation workers), according to The National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) 2012 Sleep in America® poll. This is the first poll to ask pilots; train operators; and truck, bus, taxi, and limo drivers about how their sleep habits affect their performance at work.

An NSF press release says:

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 [big rig] 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,” said Dr. Sanjay Patel, a sleep researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Sleepy transportation workers are far more likely to make mistakes than those who are not sleepy, according to the press release. Transportation workers who tend to be sleepy on the job say they average about 45 minutes less sleep per night and have job performance problems about three times more often than their non-sleepy peers.

“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, Ph.D., of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

As Ben Wolfgang reports in The Washington Times, federal officials have given a lot of attention in recent months to the problem of sleepiness among pilots and truck drivers, with the Obama administration crafting new rules governing those workers’ schedules. The rules require pilots to take off at least 10 hours between shifts, two hours more than was previously required. And the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced new rules for tractor-trailer drivers, cutting their maximum work week from 82 hours to 70.

The new rules also mandate that drivers take two days off for every five days on the job. Wolfgang also writes that the American Trucking Association (ATA) filed suit, asking the D.C. Circuit Court to review the new regulations.

In EHS Today, Laura Walter quotes National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman as saying:

The results of the NSF poll should serve as a literal wake-up call. Inadequate sleep puts lives at risk — we see this over and over in our accident investigations. While alcohol is often associated with impairment, operating a vehicle while fatigued can be just as deadly.

The 2012 Sleep in America® poll was conducted online for the National Sleep Foundation by WB&A Market Research, which sampled 1,087 adults over age 25: 202 pilots, 203 truck drivers, 180 rail transportation workers, 210 bus, taxi and limo drivers, and a control group of 292 non-transportation workers. The National Sleep Foundation is a charitable, educational, and scientific not-for-profit organization located in Arlington, VA, and  does not solicit or accept corporate support for its annual Sleep in America® polls.

Image by CountyLemonade (Garrett), used under its Creative Commons license.