Imagine this: Two of your employees who work together both get little sleep before performing a safety-sensitive task. Then, the two are involved in an incident that kills 50 people.
A major focus of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation into the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 on Feb. 12 has been on whether the captain and co-pilot were fatigued.
Co-pilot Rebecca Shaw lived with her parents near Seattle and commuted across the country to her job. The night before the accident, Shaw flew overnight from Seattle and changed planes in Memphis before reporting for the early morning flight out of Newark, NJ.
It’s unclear whether Captain Marvin Renslow slept the night before the trip. He was in the middle of a two-day assignment. The night before, he logged into a computer in a crew room, according to NTSB documents.
The crash killed all 49 people on the plane and one person on the ground.
The problem of fatigued employees isn’t limited to pilots. Fatigue costs U.S. employers $136 billion annually in health-related costs and lost worker productivity — not to mention potential lawsuits in cases involving serious injury or death.
What can be done?
You can’t follow your employees home to tuck them into bed at night. Most of the responsibility for being alert at work falls on employees themselves.
However, there are some tips you can give workers and some things you can do to improve alertness. Among the things workers can do:
- Set regular hours for sleeping. The average adult needs eight hours a night, but some require up to 10.
- Avoid caffeine three to five hours before going to bed.
- Naps can help if they’re less than an hour or longer than 90 minutes. That way, workers are less likely to wake up during deep sleep.
- Develop overall good health habits such as daily physical activity and a balanced diet.
For companies with night or long shifts, bright light and cooler temperatures enhance alertness. If possible, schedule the most tedious tasks early in a shift. Moderate physical activity during breaks, such as taking a walk, helps, too.
Employees should have at least ten hours between work shifts.
Have you taken steps to encourage workers in safety-sensitive positions to get proper rest? Let us know about what you’ve done, or leave us a comment on this story, in the box below.