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Safety-critical railroad workers at risk for fatigue: study

March 6, 2013

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Washington – Railroad workers in safety-critical positions get less sleep than other U.S. working adults during the workweek and are at risk for fatigue and sleep disorders, according to a recent report (.pdf file) from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Researchers tracked the work and sleep hours for safety-critical railroad employees, including train and engine workers, signalers, maintenance-of-way workers, and dispatchers. They also compared the risk of fatigue to employees’ work schedules. Among the findings:

  • Compared to the average U.S. working adult, railroad workers are more likely to sleep less than seven hours on workdays but sleep more, on average, each week by oversleeping during the weekends.
  • Employees working the longest shifts and at night, such as dispatchers, had the highest risk for fatigue.
  • 7.4 percent of workers reported having a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, with dispatchers having the highest rate, at 9.3 percent.

Researchers said the data can help determine whether the railroad industry should revise its hours-of-service and fatigue regulations.

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