Talking About Fatigue and How to Address It

By Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.

The NTSB has issued nearly 200 fatigue-related safety recommendations.

This morning, I held a media roundtable regarding fatigue. Not surprisingly, questions were raised regarding the recent instances of air traffic controllers found sleeping on the job. I pointed out that the NTSB’s investigations have found that fatigue is an issue across all modes of transportation. Over the past 40 years, the NTSB has issued nearly 200 fatigue-related safety recommendations: 61 address highway safety, 51 rail safety, and 46 aviation safety.

Questions were asked about strategies to address fatigue, including controlled napping. I explained that the NTSB has not made a safety recommendation regarding strategic naps for air traffic controllers, but does emphasize that the transportation industry needs a comprehensive science-based solution to fatigue. Numerous science-based strategies could be considered. Controlled napping is only one.

NTSB recommendations regarding a comprehensive approach include:

  1. education about fatigue risks, sleep need, and circadian rhythms,
  2. address health and medical issues related to sleep disorders, and
  3. 24/7 work schedules consistent with scientific research.

Fatigue and transportation safety is clearly a complicated and often contentious issue. One thing is certain: the time has come to address it.

Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., is a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

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