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Transportation Workers Report Near-Misses, Sleepiness in Study

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Pilots and train operators are chronically sleepy and make more fatigue-related errors than the general public, a U.S. study found.

About one in four of the pilots and rail workers reported that sleepiness affects their job performance at least once a week, compared with one in six non-transportation workers, according to the survey by the National Sleep Foundation.

“Transportation workers hold a special place in our society,” Thomas Balkin, chief of Behavioral Biology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, said in a telephone interview today. “We depend on them to be alert and to be competent. When they make an error, when they fall asleep especially, there is the potential for catastrophe.”

The U.S. introduced pilot-scheduling regulations designed to limit fatigue that take effect in December 2013, following an investigation into a 2009 crash at Pinnacle Airline Corp.’s Colgan Air unit. The rules reduce hours pilots can work late at night, after crossing numerous time zones or making numerous landings and takeoffs. It also requires pilots to sign a document before each flight assuring that they are fit to fly.

Transportation workers also were more likely to have been involved in a “near miss” at work because of sleepiness, according to the poll. Of the pilots surveyed, 20 percent said they had made a serious error at work caused by fatigue, four times higher than a control group of non-transportation workers.

While truck drivers didn’t report being as sleepy as other transportation workers, 14 percent said they had been in a near miss from sleepiness, according to the poll.

“This is a group for which we probably need zero tolerance for fatigue and sleepiness,” said Balkin, chairman of the group overseeing the poll at the Arlington, Virginia-based foundation. The survey of 1,087 adults was conducted by WB&A Market Research of Crofton, Maryland.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at

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