July 23rd, 2003

How Safe Is Sleepy?

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Drivers whose lack of shut-eye leads to a fatal traffic accident could be facing stiffer penalties in New Jersey if proposed legislation entitled “Maggie’s Law” is signed by the state’s governor. Already passing both houses of the state’s legislature, the bill would allow prosecutors to charge drivers who haven’t slept in 24 or more hours with vehicular homicide if their sleepiness is deemed the cause of a fatal traffic accident.

Legislation regarding insufficient sleep, however, doesn’t stop there. In the workplace, rules regulating downtime for specific professions have also recently been implemented. Included in the batch are new regulations that took effect July 1, 2003, stating that medical residents have a mandatory 10 hours of rest between shifts and are limited to being on-duty 80 hours per week. Additionally, in April, the Department of Transportation announced the Hours of Service rule for truck drivers, increasing rest hours between shifts from eight to 10 and limiting consecutive on-duty hours to 14.

While the recent attempts at legislating sleep may be new, the ergonomic implications surrounding sleep and the body’s ability to function at normal capacity aren’t. Simply put, humans require sleep to perform tasks effectively, efficiently and accurately. When the body is deprived of sleep, accidents are more apt to occur.

“Look at the Chernobyl incident, Challenger, Exxon Valdez. All of these were shown to be related to individuals who had to perform accurately and were not able to do it [because of lack of sleep],” Dr. William Orr, a member of the board of directors of the National Sleep Foundation and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center, told Ergoweb in an April, 2003 interview. “Even subtle alterations [in sleep] can have an affect in the day time,” he said.

A 1997 project by the National Sleep Foundation agreed. Entitled “Sleep, Pain and the Workplace,” the survey looked at over 400 respondents and determined how their work was affected by bouts of poor sleep. The results showed the following:

  • 63 percent had more difficulty handling stressful situations.
  • 60 percent reported more difficulty concentrating on the task they were performing.
  • 57 percent experienced more difficulties listening to what others were saying.
  • 55 percent had difficulties solving problems on the job.
  • 48 percent had difficulty making decisions.
  • 43 percent had more difficulty relating to their co-workers.

Respondents in the survey also said their concentration was about 70 percent of normal on days following a poor-sleep night and that they accomplished only 76 percent of what they could have accomplished if they had been well rested. Lastly, respondents also admitted that with poor sleep, their quality diminished by 20 percent.

“Sleeping and the Job” was addressed in detail in the May, 2003 issue of The Ergonomics ReportTM, Ergoweb’s subscription newsletter featuring News, Analysis and Knowledge for Productive PeopleTM.

Sources: National Sleep Foundation



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