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Disorder of Magnitude
In the world of journalism, a writer sometimes needs to just go where the story takes him or her. A couple of months ago, we asked one of our regular
contributors, Carol Patton, to pursue a piece on worker
fatigue and its impact on worker safety and productivity.
The story idea was originally triggered by a New York Times front-page article titled
“Deadliest Danger Isn’t at the Rig but on the Road,” written by Ian Urbina. In his lead,
Urbina reported on the tragic death of Timothy Roth, a rig driver who died 10 minutes
from his home when he fell asleep at the wheel of his truck.
Urbina noted in his story that more than 300 oil-and-gas workers like Roth were killed
in highway crashes over the past decade, adding that many of the deaths were “due in
part to oil-field exemptions from highway safety rules that allow truckers to work longer
hours than drivers in most other industries.”
True, we’ve explored the issue of worker fatigue before in Human Resource
Executive®. But considering the huge impact fatigue can have on worker safety and
productivity, we figured it might be a good time to ask Patton to revisit the issue and see
what employers were doing about it.
Eventually, Patton’s phone calls led her to some disturbing and yet-to-be-reported
findings in the related area of sleep apnea, a fairly common cause of worker fatigue.
In research conducted a decade ago, Allan Pack, professor of medicine and director
of the Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania
Since then, a number other sleep-apnea studies have reached similar conclusions,
including some mentioned in this edition’s story.
As Patton’s piece in HRE’s first-ever digital-only edition points out, the issue of sleep
apnea is especially relevant in industries such as transportation and security, where the
consequences of not addressing the issue can be disastrous. But it also makes clear that
its reach goes a lot further.
According to one estimate, roughly 31 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea,
including store cashiers, accountants who control their employers’ billion-dollar budgets
and technicians who monitor global networks.
Considering it crosses a wide spectrum of occupations, its implications can be huge—
both in terms of worker safety and worker productivity. Very huge!
It isn’t a surprise to learn, then, that many experts are puzzled as to why more
employers haven’t recognized the problem and adopted more proactive approaches. Or
why it isn’t on the radar of more HR executives.
“I am frankly perplexed that this hasn’t gained more momentum than it has because
the benefits are so clear,” says Don Osterberg, senior vice president for safety, security
and driver training at Schneider National Inc., a firm that is now investing heavily in
addressing this issue.
Perhaps it’s simply wishful thinking, but I’d like to hope Patton’s story might help,
even in a small way, to accelerate efforts on this front.
No question, there’s a definite cost associated with addressing this issue. But I think
Patton’s story also makes a very strong case that the price of “keeping your head in the
sand” can be even greater.