A recently released book by a well-known author might well rekindle a controversy about air traffic controllers, but the debate, which her book may foment, was put to bed years ago. Because the book was written by Arianna Huffington, the issue will likely attract undue attention. A brief recall of the past resolution seems appropriate.
Ms. Huffington has quite a public platform as the co-founder and editor in chief of The Huffington Post. Her book advocates the importance of sleep for health, job performance, relationships and happiness. One of the premises of her book, The Sleep Revolution, is that society is in the midst of a sleep deprivation crisis.
One of the major lessons of her book is that naps should be a part of workers’ daily routine. She makes a case for the notion that napping is an energy boosting technique for employees. To highlight her thesis, Ms. Huffington cites a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation that air controllers in the United States to take 26-minutes naps, in order to receive an extra boost of energy when working on night shifts.
The 2007 NTSB recommendation, A-07-30 through -32, was in response to an accident (plus four other incidents) in which the Board found that “…the air traffic controller who cleared the accident airplane for takeoff had worked a shift from 0630 to 1430 the day before the accident, then returned 9 hours later to work the accident shift from 2330 until the time of the accident at 0607 the next morning.” In its finding the five Members urged the FAA to
“Work with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to reduce the potential for controller fatigue by revising controller work-scheduling policies and practices to provide rest periods that are long enough for controllers to obtain sufficient restorative sleep and by modifying shift rotations to minimize disrupted sleep patterns, accumulation of sleep debt, and decreased cognitive performance. (A-07-30)
Develop a fatigue awareness and countermeasures training program for controllers and for personnel who are involved in the scheduling of controllers for operational duty that will address the incidence of fatigue in the controller workforce, causes of fatigue, effects of fatigue on controller performance and safety, and the importance of using personal strategies to minimize fatigue. This training should be provided in a format that promotes retention, and recurrent training should be provided at regular intervals. (A-07-31)”
Soon thereafter, Dr. Mark Rosekind, a member of the NTSB and a long-time expert on the dangers of fatigue, was quoted and expanded on this theme, “A controlled nap can improve performance significantly.” Rosekind also mentioned in the Time article that a 1995 NASA study found that “a 26-minute nap improved performance 34% and alertness 54%.”
In 2011 Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Randy Babbitt announced changes to air traffic controller scheduling practices that will allow controllers more time for rest between shifts. The outline of the new scheduling regime was defined in these points:
- “Controllers will now have a minimum of nine hours off between shifts. Currently they may have as few as eight.
- Controllers will no longer be able to swap shifts unless they have a minimum of 9 hours off between the last shift they worked and the one they want to begin.
- Controllers will no longer be able to switch to an unscheduled midnight shift following a day off.
- FAA managers will schedule their own shifts in a way to ensure greater coverage in the early morning and late night hours.”
To support this new program, a pamphlet “Shift Work Coping Strategies,” based on research at CAMI (The Role of Shiftwork And Fatigue in Air Traffic Control Operational Errors and Incidents) was distributed to workers and management. In addition, the FAA/NATCA cooperative work led to a fatigue awareness training program consisting of a one-hour fatigue awareness lesson taught in terminal and en route initial qualification courses, a 30-minute computer based instruction lesson for refresher training.
This comprehensive effort should obviate the need for on-the-job “napping.” Dr. Rosekind proposed that the air controllers, who napped, would automatically qualify for overtime. His rational must be that shift work universally correlates with fatigue.
The Rosekind solution overlooks that controllers like the added pay for overtime; so 100% of the work force would use the nap option whether needed or not. Arriving at the beginning of a shift prepared for the assignment would be obviated.
Controllers, like pilots and mechanics, have an obligation to come to work fit for performance. The expected performance of every safety professional is one hundred percent. If the individual cannot meet that expectation/requirement, he/she must declare that she/he cannot work.
A more realistic contractual structure, than the Rosekind proposal, would be to allow naps, but to extend the work shift for the length of the time away from duties.
Napping on a job which is on the clock is not the same as those who are salaried personnel. By napping the employee with fixed annual contract price (i.e. ineligible for overtime), the employee essentially elects to make up the rest period by adding time at the end of the day. For an hourly worker/napper, the productivity of the work time with nap would have to exceed the productivity shift without nap.
The Huffington nap may not be needed as a boost for controllers because the LaHood/Babbitt solution is already in effect and working.