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.

Keeping a Close Eye on Close Calls

By Debbie Hersman

Image of several planes near each other in flight
TCAS warns flight crews about a possible collision in the air.

We are hearing a lot this week about the loss of separation between an Air National Guard Boeing 737, with First Lady Michelle Obama on board, and a military cargo plane near Andrews AFB. Fortunately, the error was caught, and corrections were made to prevent the 737 from encountering wake vortices from the cargo plane. Last January, a significant loss of separation occurred between a Boeing 777 bound for Brazil and two military C-17s just outside New York. At their closest, the aircraft were only separated by one mile.

“Loss of separation” occurs when the space — vertically or horizontally — between two airborne aircraft falls below the minimum allowable. Modern commercial and military aircraft are equipped with collision avoidance alerts from their Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System, or “TCAS.” These alarms sound inside the cockpit to warn flight crews about a possible collision in the air. The vast majority of these conflicts are resolved quickly, and passengers are never even aware of the event. Once in a while, the conflict is more serious and an aircraft must take sudden evasive action.

Continue reading Keeping a Close Eye on Close Calls

Call Before You Dig

By Debbie Hersman

Always call 811 before you dig.

Did you know to call 811 before you begin any excavation project — for example, before planting a tree, installing a mailbox, or building a deck? The reason: To protect you from hitting underground utility lines.

This is important. Damage to underground lines is a leading cause of pipeline accidents. While pipelines are a very safe mode of transportation, there has been a spate of recent accidents across the country in the last year. The NTSB currently has five active pipeline accident investigations.

We’ve seen from recent tragic accidents in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and San Bruno, California, that pipeline accidents can be deadly. The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is addressing the state of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure, is holding a Pipeline Safety Forum today. I moderated this morning’s panel, which addressed, “What Are the Highest Pipeline Risks?”

As Richard Worsinger, president of the American Public Gas Association said, “Excavation damage is a main concern.” That sentiment was echoed by other panelists who agree public education is essential.

To support public education, April has been designated National Safe Digging Month. To learn more about calling 811, check out

Lifeboats and Life Jackets

By Debbie Hersman

Lifeboat from the Titanic, as seen from the RMS Carpathia

Ninety-nine years ago today, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic. While 700 people survived, some 1,500 passengers and crew members were left behind to perish at sea. In that iconic accident, the heart of the tragedy was that there were not enough lifeboats for the passengers.

From my office in Southwest Washington, DC, if I look due south I can see Washington Channel Park where the Women’s Titanic Memorial is located. This is a memorial dedicated “to the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic … they gave their lives that women and children might be saved.”

Over the past century, numerous improvements, including international regulations (Safety of Life at Sea Convention) for stability, watertight integrity, and lifesaving equipment for all persons on board have made merchant vessels safer.

Here in the United States, commercial safety on our inland waterways is improving, but, tragically, there are still many accidents in recreational boating. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that in 2009, 736 people died and 3,358 were injured in recreational boating accidents. Of those fatalities, about three-fourths were from drowning. Many of these could have been prevented. In those fatality statistics is the hard fact that 85 percent of the people who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

I applaud the resolution the National Boating Safety Advisory Council issued earlier this month calling for the U.S. Coast Guard to mandate wearing life jackets in certain segments of the boating community.

The next time you go boating, take some precautions so that the women and children — and everyone — onboard might be saved if calamity strikes. Make sure there are enough life jackets for everyone on board. Better yet, wear them.

Celebrating Volunteers and Supporting our Troops

By Debbie Hersman

This is National Volunteer Week, a time to celebrate what we all can accomplish through service and the stronger communities we build when we take time to help others. As President Obama said when he proclaimed April 10-16, 2011, as National Volunteer Week,

“During National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the profound impact of volunteers and encourage all Americans to discover their own power to make a difference. Every one of us has a role to play in making our communities and our country stronger.”

Chairman Hersman dines with soldiers at Walter Reed

In that spirit, yesterday employees from the NTSB hosted our annual Walter Reed Army Medical Center Volunteer Dinner. Our employees collected books for the Walter Reed library, donated nearly a $1,000 worth of gift cards to give to service members, and provided homemade meals for the service members and family members who attended the dinner. I especially enjoyed having the opportunity to greet each guest and join my colleagues in thanking our servicemen and their families for their sacrifices and service to our country.

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