Every year or so the stories briefly get featured on the evening news like a blip on a gloomy green radar screen then are as quickly forgotten. Until the next study is released or, worse, some human bodies are asploded. Now that’s news.
Think of a list of professions where you’d really like people to be fully rested and alert. Airline pilots? Air traffic control? Doctors? Truck drivers?
Nice list. Congratulations. You just came up with a list of people that we fuck the most. Logical, right?
This week, again, the issue of employee fatigue was in the news. The FAA commissioned a study on air traffic controller fatigue. The results are none too surprising. Then the government fought for four years to keep the findings secret.
“Psst. Hey dude. I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse. You pay top dollar for me to conduct a study about how I’m fucking you over. Then I keep the results secret from you. Sounds like fun, right?”
What could possibly be going on here? Luckily I got a good night’s sleep.
You may not know this but I used to be a professional truck driver. Yeah, big rigs. 18-wheelers. Tractor trailers. I’ve done a lot of things. I’m a true Renaissance Man. Breaker, breaker. This is Rubber Ducky. A GoCar just cut me off and I went 10-100 in my pants.
It’s no understatement to say that big rigs are lethal killing machines. In the blink of an eye they can transform into WMDs. And I don’t mean that in an Optimus Prime sort of way.
A lot of truck drivers get paid by the mile. Hence they are incentivized to drive as much as they possibly can. It turns out this system was inherently dangerous. A tired truck driver is not a safe truck driver. Who could have possibly predicted that? If only we had FAA studies back then.
So they made laws that limited time behind the wheel. They required log books. Of course, the laws are bent and the log books are falsified. Ah, real improvement!
You give a shit about trucker safety? Pay them by the hour. Watch their desire to work 18-hour shifts fly right out the window.
I googled and found this:
During the 14 consecutive hours on duty period, you are only allowed to drive your truck for up to 11 total hours. Once you have driven a total of 11 hours, you have reached the driving limit and must be off duty for another 10 consecutive hours before driving your truck again.
Whew. Another problem solved by the ingenuity of humanity. We’re all safe now. We can relax and rest easy. Wait. What?! Truckers are still allowed to drive 11 hours a day? Mothafucka!
The most important thing to note about a “fix” like this is the complexity. They don’t simply say: “Trucking is dangerous. Truckers shall drive no more than eight hours a day and 40 hours in a calendar week.” See, that would actually make a fucking difference. Complicated language like the above (and the plethora of loopholes that invariably sneak in) smacks of a Band-Aid compromise between the competing interests of commerce and basic human decency.
It’s absolutely no different in the air traffic controller industry. If anything the rules are even wackier. For example, it’s legal for a person directing airliners containing hundreds of people to have as little as fours hours of sleep.
What forces are at work here?
What would be the safest course of action? Hire enough ATCs and manage them effectively so they receive basic human treatment like eight hour shifts and 40 hour workweeks. Not only because they deserve it but because it would help keep them alert. (I was able to reach this conclusion without the benefit of an FAA study.)
Lives hang in the balance? Why the fuck would anyone even consider doing it any other way? Money.
This means that somewhere up the food chain decisions are being made. That there has been a conscious choice to balance money against the risk to human lives. In other words, when any overly-fatigued employee makes a mistake that leads to the loss of human life, it was essentially preventable.
I’ve had jobs where lives didn’t hang in the balance. They still fucked over the employees. They’d do things like refuse to allow regular schedules. Some employees actually prefer the night shift. Others, like new hires, will accept the night shift to get their foot in the door, and can adjust to the shift – if given the opportunity.
But it doesn’t work like that. In my case they’d force me to work #1, #2 and #3 shifts in the same week. I was unable to get any sleep before #2 shifts. Knowing that work was looming on the horizon fucked over my whole day. In other cases, they’d schedule #2 shifts followed by #1 shifts. That means getting off as late at 2am and being back by 6am.
Hey. They’re only employees. Fuck ’em if you got ’em. And, if there happens to be any element of public safety that depends on their performance, fuck ’em double and thrice on Sundays.
For the benefit of the FAA and others tasked with public safety, I did my own study. Treat employees decently, schedule them thoughtfully, accommodate their preferences when you can, and keep their shifts such that human endurance is not strained to ultimate limits.
Can you even imagine? Who knows what the fuck might happen?