With Workers’ Memorial Day (April 28) almost upon us, the AFL-CIO today released their annual report on deaths on the job. This year’s focus of the report was workplace violence.
According to the AFL-CIO, “Workplace violence is the third-leading cause of death on the job, resulting in more than 29,000 serious, lost-time injuries for workers each year.”
According to the report, in 2017, 5,147 workers lost their lives on the job as a result of traumatic injuries and each day, an average of 14 workers die due to on-the-job injuries. An estimated, 95,000 people die each year from occupational diseases.
The report also states that nearly 3.5 million workers in the public sector had work-related injuries and illnesses, with an additional 2.8 million injuries reported in the private sector. Due to limitations to the current injury reporting system and widespread under-reporting of injuries in the workplace, the AFL-CIO estimates that the true numbers are two to three times greater than these at about 7.0 million to 10.5 million work-related injuries and illnesses per year.
Sleep deprivation impacts workplace safety, productivity and individual health
(DARIEN, Ill.) March 2018 – Getting insufficient sleep and working while fatigued have become commonplace in the modern 24/7 workforce, with more than 37 percent of workers sleep-deprived.[i] Over-worked and over-tired employees experience cognitive declines and present employers with heightened safety risks and increased economic costs. The National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project – including partners the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Sleep Research Society (SRS) and the National Safety Council (NSC) – is launching the “Sleep Works for You” campaign, encouraging employers to help workers avoid fatigue and develop healthy sleep habits for long-term success and well-being.
“Working long hours and sleeping less than the recommended seven or more hours has become a badge of honor in many industries, despite evidence that proves a lack of sleep hurts productivity, safety and overall health,” said AASM President Dr. Ilene Rosen. “It is essential for employers to promote health and safety by creating a workplace culture that values the importance of sleep.”
The National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project encourages employers to promote sleep health in the workplace with three steps:
Learn about sleepiness in the workplace, its costs, its causes and how fatigue can lead to a higher rate of safety incidents
Educate employees on fatigue, sleep health and sleep disorders, as well as strategies to improve alertness on the job, as part of a comprehensive employee wellness program
Investigate the causes of fatigue in the workplace and implement fatigue risk management as part of a safety management system
“Nearly 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep problem, and nearly 60 percent of them have a chronic disease that can harm their overall health,” said Janet B. Croft, PhD, senior chronic disease epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Population Health.“Lack of sleep and sleep disorders, including stops in breathing during sleep (sleep apnea), excessive daytime sleepiness (narcolepsy), restless legs syndrome, and insomnia, are increasingly recognized as linked to chronic disease, including obesity, high blood pressure, and cancer.”
The Cost of Fatigue
According to the NSC, fatigued workers cost employers about $1,200 to $3,100 per employee in declining job performance each year, while sleepy workers are estimated to cost employers $136 billion a year in health-related lost productivity.
To help employers gauge how much fatigue may be adding to annual expenditures, NSC and Brigham and Women’s Hospital created an online Fatigue Cost Calculator.
“Sleepless nights hurt everyone,” said NSC President and CEO Deborah A.P Hersman. “Many of us have been conditioned to just power through our fatigue, but worker health and safety on the job are compromised when we don’t get the sleep we need. Doing nothing to address fatigue costs employers a lot more than they think.”
Impact of Sleepiness on Safety
Sleepiness causes decreased performance capacity, and tired workers become slower, more error prone and less productive. Research shows that fatigue impairs employees’ ability to function properly and puts them at a greater risk of a safety incident.[ii] In fact, about 13 percent of work injuries are attributable to sleep deprivation.[iii]
Sleepiness also impacts safety for those who drive as part of their job or commute to and from work. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimates that fatigue has been a contributing factor in 20 percent of its investigations over the last two decades. That’s why the NTSB included “reduce fatigue-related accidents” on its 2017 – 2018 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.
In February, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a research brief estimating that drowsy driving is involved in up to 9.5 percent of all motor vehicle crashes. Projections from the AAA Foundation indicate that drowsy driving causes an average of 328,000 motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. each year, including 6,400 fatal crashes.
Maximizing Health of Shift Workers
The effects of sleepiness are exacerbated and pose a constant struggle for workers who work night shifts or rotating shifts, and for those who work long hours or have an early morning start time. U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics show about 15 percent of full-time employees in the U.S. perform shift work, many of whom suffer from chronic sleep loss caused by a disruption in the body’s circadian rhythm. Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses that negatively impact a worker’s well-being and long-term health.
There are significant differences in the rate of insufficient sleep among occupations. A recent CDC analysis found that the jobs with the highest rates of short sleep duration were communications equipment operators (58.2%), other transportation workers (54.0%) and rail transportation workers (52.7%).
Night shift workers and those driving during nighttime hours are most at risk for chronic sleep loss. The NSC found that 59 percent of night shift workers reported short sleep duration compared to 45 percent of day workers, while the risk of safety incidents was 30 percent higher during night shifts compared to morning shifts.
Employers with personnel in safety-sensitive positions are urged to implement a fatigue risk management system. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides educational resources on sleep, shiftwork, and fatigue for employees and managers involved in aviation, emergency response, healthcare, railroads and trucking.
Employers can help shift workers fight fatigue by implementing the following strategies:
Avoid assigning permanent night-shift schedules
Assign regular, predictable schedules
Avoid long shift lengths
Give employees a voice in their schedules
Rotate shifts forward when regularly changing shifts
About the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project
The National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project was initiated in 2013 and is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a cooperative agreement with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The project involves collaboration with the Sleep Research Society and other partners to address the sleep health focus area of Healthy People 2020, which provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans. The sleep health objectives are to increase the medical evaluation of people with symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, reduce vehicular crashes due to drowsy driving and ensure more Americans get sufficient sleep. For more information, visit www.projecthealthysleep.org.
[i] Yong LC, Li J, Calvert GM. “Sleep-related problems in the US working population: prevalence and association with shiftwork status.” Occup Environ Med Published Online First: 08 September 2016. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2016-103638
[ii] Lombardi, D. A., Folkard, S., Willetts, J. L., & Smith, G. S. (2010). Daily sleep, weekly working hours, and risk of work-related injury: US National Health Interview Survey (2004–2008). Chronobiology international, 27(5), 1013-1030
[iii] Uehli, K. “Sleep problems and work injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Sleep Med Rev. 2014 Feb;18(1):61-73. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2013.01.004. Epub 2013 May 21.
The recent tragic, senseless and violent murder in New Orleans of CSX conductor Fred Gibbs, and wounding of the train’s engineer (a potential witness whose name is being withheld), accelerates an already urgent need for better workplace safety and security measures for rail, transit and motor coach facilities and operations.
Gibbs and the engineer were shot by a lone gunman (a suspect is in police custody) inside the cab of their intermodal train parked on a dark and isolated stretch of track as it awaited dispatcher clearance to enter a yard in New Orleans. The motive appears to have been robbery of the crew, but the train could have contained a cargo of chlorine gas or other deadly hazmat, and the shooter could have been a terrorist or delusional individual with knowledge of locomotive operations.
Indeed, prior to 9/11, few, if any, envisioned terrorists capable of hijacking and piloting multiple sophisticated passenger aircraft and flying them into high-profile targets; or of terrorists in Madrid, Spain, who coordinated four separate rush-hour bombings aboard packed commuter trains in March 2004.
Many of our members noted immediately after the New Orleans shooting that federal regulations do not require bullet-proof glass in locomotives, tamper-proof and functioning locomotive door locks, “keyed” or electronic safeguards that limit locomotive operation to licensed train and engine workers, or train scheduling and dispatching that restricts the stopping of trains to well-lighted and protected areas.
Certainly these are logical responses to the New Orleans shooting.
But without more expert study and collaboration among experts at the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Transportation Security Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, law enforcement agencies, carriers and labor organizations representing rail, transit and bus employees, we could be overlooking other effective safeguards.
Transportation labor long has been ahead of the curve in calling for greater collaboration among stakeholders, which includes front-line employee training to recognize threats and learn how best to report concerns to dispatchers and law enforcement.
In fact, Amtrak and the UTU recently agreed to a joint project that, in cooperation with the Transportation Security Administration, directs almost $300,000 in federal funding to the UTU to devise and implement a training program for conductors, assistant conductors, engineers, on-board service personnel and yard employees to enhance their abilities to recognize behavioral traits of individuals intending to engage in terrorist-like activity.
The UTU is now reaching out to build on this program to effectuate workplace safety as it pertains to terrorist and delusional activities.
We are seeking collaboration among other concerned labor organizations, federal safety and homeland security agencies, and carriers to create an incubator for effective ideas on a comprehensive security action plan, including employee training, that can be presented to Congress for fast-track federal funding.
We are heartened by word from CSX that it has begun a cooperative security venture with other carriers and law enforcement agencies to increase security around interchanges and loops in New Orleans.
The potential threat, however, is nationwide; and as train and engine employees, and bus drivers, are constantly in the cross-hairs of danger as well as being the eyes and ears best and first able to recognize threats, it is essential that transportation labor organizations be an integral part of any effort to improve rail, transit and bus security.
Historically, transportation labor and the carriers have been most successful in achieving policy goals when they act in concert. Where carriers or labor act separately — and often at odds with each other — success often is elusive or falls short of goals.
For any action plan to be effective, all parties with accountability and responsibility must collaborate in the creation and implementation of that plan.
We will be reporting more on this effort in the near future.