Lullaby and goodnight — if only …

March 5, 2012

UTU members hearing about a National Sleep Foundation study just released might be tempted to roll their eyes and ask – depending on craft – “Does ballast contain rip-rap? Do buses have headlights? Do airplanes have wings?”

Yet, sometimes, what is as obvious to transportation workers as closed eyelids on a fellow employee isn’t so obvious to those who shape and make laws and regulations at the state and federal levels. For all the efforts of the UTU’s National Legislative Office and state legislative directors, too many lawmakers still don’t properly understand the problem of transport worker fatigue — that, at worst, it  kills and maims, and habitually distrupts family life.

So when a nationally recognized and well-respected research organization, such as the non-partisan, non-profit National Sleep Foundation speaks, many ears among opinion leaders and decision makers that previously weren’t listening elsewhere tune in.

This is what the National Sleep Foundation reported March 3:

* The people we trust to take us or our loved ones from place to place struggle with sleep.

* Pilots and train operators are most likely to report sleep-related job performance and safety problems.

* About 25 percent of railroad and airline workers in safety sensitive positions admit that sleepiness has affected their job performance at least once a week. This compares to about 17 percent of non-transportation workers.

* One-in-five pilots and almost one-in-five rails has made a serious error or had a close call due to sleepiness.

* Six percent of transportation workers — air, bus and rail — have been involved in car accidents due to sleepiness while commuting to or from work. This compares with just 1 percent of non-transportation workers.

* Among all workers, airline and rail workers in safety sensitive positions report the most workday sleep dissatisfaction.

* Almost two-thirds of rail workers in safety sensitive positions and one-half of airline workers in safety sensitive positions say they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on work nights.

* If given one more hour off between work shifts, over one-half of pilots and rail workers in safety sensitive positions report that they would use the hour for sleep.

* Transportation workers have challenging schedules that compete with the natural need for sleep.

UTU National Legislative Director James Stem says that “while there has been some improvement in safety laws and regulations aimed at combating fatigue affecting transportation workers, those laws and regulations fall far short of what is needed.

“There remains a total lack of predictable work schedules for safety critical operating employees,” Stem says. “And there remains a misapplication of existing work-rest provisions that actually make fatigue-reducing applications worse – especially for regularly scheduled yard assignments.

“For commuter airline pilots, the problem of fatigue abatement is especially severe,” Stem says. “Commuter airline pilots and flight attendants in safety critical roles are not furnished lodging during break periods, requiring them to use public airport facilities, rather than hotel rooms, for rest periods.”

The UTU National Legislative Office and UTU state legislative directors will be using the results of this National Sleep Foundation study to educate lawmakers and regulators – a study that will beef-up existing education efforts.

Meanwhile, the National Sleep Foundation offers the following advice, which, in some cases, will help transportation workers obtain better rest:

* Use your bedroom only for sleep to strengthen the association between your bed and sleep. It may help to remove work materials, computers and televisions from your bedroom.

* Select a relaxing bedtime ritual, like a warm bath or listening to calming music.

* Create an environment conducive to sleep that is quiet, dark and cool, with a comfortable mattress and pillows.

* If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired.

* Exercise regularly, but avoid vigorous workouts close to bedtime.

* If you are experiencing excessive sleepiness during work hours, contact your health care professional for a sleep apnea screening.