Sleepiness affects pilots, train operators on job: poll

Sat Mar 3, 2012 12:02pm EST
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Many people have fought the urge to fall asleep during a boring meeting or the mid-afternoon slump but the problem seems to be more prevalent among airline pilots and train operators.

About a quarter of pilots and 23 percent of train operators questioned in a National Sleep Foundation poll admitted that sleepiness had affected their job performance, compared to 17 percent of non-transportation workers.

And about 20 percent of members of both professions said they had made a serious error on the job because of their sleepiness.

"The margin of error in these professions is extremely small. Transportation officials need to manage sleep to perform at their best," said David Cloud, the CEO of the Virginia-based foundation.

Pilots and train operators also reported six times more car crashes than other workers because of sleepiness during their commutes to and from their jobs.

"Transportation workers are somebody that we trust to get us from one place to another and when there is a problem, when they make errors the results can be catastrophic, so any indication that they are sleepier than other people, I find it disturbing," said Thomas Balkin, a sleep researcher from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research who worked on the poll.

"I don't, however, find it surprising," he added.

Like doctors, nurses and other people working in 24-hour operations, transportation workers' erratic schedules and turnarounds between shifts may not be conducive to optimal sleep, and long commutes can also be a sleep stealer.   Continued...